February 22, 2021

Rounds: “Simply Unfinished:” Our path to vaccination

Jeff Balser, MD, PhD

I was among the millions moved by the poetic words of Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate who spoke so eloquently at the Presidential Inauguration. The many inequities in opportunity ingrained in race and ethnicity have become all the more visible in the COVID-19 pandemic. People of color have shouldered a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths across the lifespan — children, adults and the elderly.

Yet, while these differences have made racial inequities in health care more visible, we are not so “broken” that we cannot see a brighter future. Amanda Gorman’s words remind us that the arc of justice is long. One way we can find meaning in tragedy is to commit ourselves to make lasting changes that build a new reality — for the people we can impact today and the generations to come.

In this context, Black History Month is a time to recognize past and ongoing injustices, while also reaffirming a commitment to bring about change. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to lay the foundation for an equitable future at VUMC, and through us, the communities we serve.

To lay that foundation, we can begin by taking a hard look at how racial disparities are impacting VUMC. Today, nearly 30% of our co-workers have not registered for vaccination. We know that many people remain hesitant and cautious about vaccination, particularly our co-workers from communities of color. In no small part, their concerns arise from historical abuses of minority populations in both clinical studies and health care practice, in this country and around the world.

Meanwhile, these very same communities are experiencing the most devastating outcomes in the pandemic. In a prior Rounds, I highlighted the importance of listening to a multitude of voices to understand concerns and fears and then lending our varied and individual voices “like a chorus” in making the case for vaccination. So rather than my voice, in this Rounds I’m privileged to share the voices of VUMC colleagues as they reveal their own experience and choices in considering the COVID-19 vaccine.


Jeff Balser, MD, PhD

President and CEO, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine


George Weaver III

George Weaver III, associate Patient Service Specialist

Hello all,

Getting the Covid-19 vaccination was not an easy decision for me, but I made the decision to receive both doses of the vaccine, receiving my second dose Jan. 25. I ultimately questioned: what harm could it do that COVID-19 would not?

I am using myself as an example for our community of African American males, the Hispanic community and all others so skeptical of this new vaccine.

Most people believe that it will make them really sick or may think that the actual virus is being administered into the body. These fears twist facts to make it scarier than it is.

My first dose of the vaccine was very quick and after about two hours the soreness from the injection started to settle in that muscle and lasted for about two days (just like the flu shot). I had no symptoms or other side effects.

Twenty-one days later I received my second dose of the vaccine and I am having no soreness or symptoms thus far.

I believe that when the opportunity comes and this vaccine is offered, everyone should get this vaccine as soon as possible. With everyone on the same page with this virus and vaccine, we can gain our herd immunity and get back to our normalcy as soon as possible.


Amita Bey, EdD, MPH

Amita Bey, EdD, MPH, associate director, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Office of Inclusion and Health Equity

The politicization of science in the U.S. as of late has unfortunately been quite effective. In fact, I fell prey to the messages portrayed across media outlets myself. When considering whether or not I would get vaccinated against Covid-19, I found myself asking, “Hasn’t this vaccine been rushed too quickly to market? How do I know it’s really safe?”

But then I, like many other people, started to be personally affected as friends and family members were diagnosed with the virus. Not all survived. A close uncle passed away and the only way I could pay respects was through a screen during a virtual memorial service.

I earned my undergraduate degree from Tuskegee University. I understand the suspicion and fears regarding research and medicine often felt by people who look like me. I also know that African American communities are disproportionately affected by health disparities, and outcomes for Covid-19 seem to be no different. I realized that the true threat to me was the virus itself, and not the vaccine. Getting vaccinated would help to protect my life, and the lives of others.

I believe in science. I also believe in medicine. I allowed political propaganda to cause me to doubt (for a small time) my own knowledge and understanding. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. For this reason, I had zero reservations about getting vaccinated.

I got my first shot on Jan. 12. My second is scheduled. I take pride in knowing that I did my part to protect myself and those around me.

Cedric Duncan, MBA


Cedric Duncan, MBA, Pathology Support Representative

I got vaccinated to help fight the spread of COVID-19 in my city and I shared about my experience to set an example for those around me. I would love for Black people to know that this is necessary to help build back our community and bring families back together. The vaccine is not scary and does not hurt. The best way to thank health care workers is to protect yourself and the people around you by getting vaccinated.


Tina Patton, RRT, director of Vanderbilt Tullahoma Therapy, Vanderbilt Tullahoma-Harton Hospital

Tina Patton, RRT

My decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine was not an easy decision. I was asked to participate in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial prior to vaccine being released by the FDA for emergency usage. I was informed about the necessity of having African Americans participate in the trial to reflect the diversity of the population. I was adamant that I was not going to be a guinea pig. Even once the conversation about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approval for usage and that front-line health care workers would be the first to receive the vaccines, my initial response was “absolutely not.” I wanted to wait and see how it affected everyone else.

I began to change my mind a little after reading an email from Dr. Matthew Campbell, one of our pediatricians, who had decided to take the vaccine. In this email he pointed out the importance of vaccination. I then began to weigh the pros and cons of vaccine versus COVID-19. I made the decision to get the vaccine for my grandchildren, family, patients and my community. As a respiratory therapist I have a greater chance of getting the virus and the thought of spreading it to my family, patients and community was enough for me to make up my mind.

I received my first dose of Moderna Dec. 30,2020, and experienced nothing more than a sore arm. The second dose was given on Feb. 2 and I had body aches for 24 hours. As a middle-aged Black female, I encourage everyone to get the vaccine to protect the ones around us, but most importantly for the Black community. COVID-19 is like Russian roulette, and the disparity in deaths in the Black population is not worth waiting to see if you outrun COVID-19.

Melissa Crowell


Melissa Crowell, lead administrative assistant, Clinical Developmental

I feel that it was important for me to get the vaccine as a health care employee and to set the example for family and friends. I wanted them to know that it’s OK to trust the science. I have had a lot of family members and friends ask questions about my experience and how I felt afterwards, and I’ve been very open with them. I’m sure I will get a lot of phone calls and text messages asking about the second dose.


Damien Corlew, director, Revenue Cycle System Support & Analytics

Getting the COVID vaccine was a simple decision to make.

Damien Corlew

I have witnessed the physical toll COVID-19 takes on the body as well as the emotional strain it has on families, teachers, health care providers, clergy, etc.

When presented with the decision to receive the vaccine, I had two options: get the vaccine, which will not only help protect me, but will help protect my family and loved ones; or opt out of receiving the vaccine and place myself and others at risk of contracting this potentially fatal virus.

Appropriately, the Black community often cites the injustices of unethical human experimentations in the United States. Historically, these were disproportionately targeted towards African Americans, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. However, I tend to believe as a society, although we have far to come, we are better than the darker days of our history. In particular, the Tuskegee Experiment was the exact opposite of providing a vaccine. These individuals were intentionally left untreated instead of receiving penicillin.

When I received my vaccine, there were people of multiple races and ethnicities both administering and receiving the shots. We all are hoping for a sense of normalcy and this past year has been anything but normal. Personally, I want to be able to take my daughters to basketball games again. Getting this vaccine helps our society move toward putting this pandemic behind us.

MerryJean Losso


MerryJean Losso, MD, Neurology resident physician, PGY-2

The COVID-19 vaccine is an opportunity to change both the narrative and deadly systemic practice of inequitable inclusion of Black and minority communities in clinical research and public health initiatives. I urge people to trust the science, the researchers and the doctors, devoted to this change. I urge people to get vaccinated as a personal and community investment in safely protecting each other from severe illness or death. This is one step forward to a healthier tomorrow.