BALTIMORE — Nearly one year into the global pandemic, the COVID-19 virus is still raging across our nation.
On Monday, Jan. 18, the University of Maryland Medical System will be recognizing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Observance with a statewide virtual conversation via Zoom featuring multiple physician experts discussing COVID-19 vaccine issues, concerns and questions.
“Finding Hope on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day — A Town Hall on Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine” is scheduled for 11 a.m. to noon. The event is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is requested at umms.org/FindingHope, and the Town Hall will also be broadcast live on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/UMDMedCenter.
Freeman A. Hrabrowski III, Ph.D., president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a participant in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Moderna vaccine clinical trial, will moderate the event.
“Many of Dr. King’s themes about the right to basic healthcare, inclusivity of all people and hope are particularly poignant and important as we are continue to battle COVID-19,” said Mohan Suntha, M.D., MBA, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System. “The vaccines provide hope for saving lives and bringing an end to this pandemic.”
“We are hosting this critical conversation to help inform our communities about the effect this pandemic has had on all of us and to address questions and concerns about the vaccines, particularly among communities of color,” said Suntha, who is serving as the event’s emcee. “COVID is real and it is devastating. This discussion will offer hope and clarity about the path forward to ending COVID-19.”
Discussion topics during the Town Hall will include the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, safety and efficacy, potential side effects, and the science behind messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, including how they promote a response in individuals.
“In order to end COVID, it is imperative that we provide as much information as possible, so people can make informed decisions about the vaccine,” said Michelle Gourdine, M.D., UMMS’ interim chief medical officer and senior vice president for population health and primary care.
“There are some populations that have deep-seated concerns about equity in healthcare and historically-based fears about experimentation, and consequently are hesitant to get the vaccine,” said Gourdine, an African-American physician who is one of the Town Hall panelists. “Factual information about vaccines can dispel myths and concerns. Information is power.”
Other UMMS physician expert participants in the Town Hall include:
- Dr. David Marcozzi — Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, UMMS COVID-19 Incident Commander and Senior COVID-19 Medical Advisor to Governor Larry Hogan
- Dr. Stacy Garrett-Ray — Vice President and Medical Director, UMMS Population Health Services Organization
- Dr. Fermin Barrueto Jr. — Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, UM Upper Chesapeake Health (Harford County)
- Dr. Joseph L. Wright — Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, UM Capital Region Health (Prince George’s County)
- Panelists will also discuss COVID-19 issues that adversely impact minority populations, including:
Black people are almost 1.5 times more likely to get COVID-19, and the risk for Latino and Latina populations is almost twice as high. People in these communities who do get contract the virus are nearly four times more likely to require hospitalization and nearly three times more likely to die.
Health co-morbidities such as heart and lung disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are linked to COVID-19 complications, and these health issues affect Black people at a higher rate.
Systemic health and social inequities that put minorities at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and death, such as lack of access to health care and challenges around education, income and housing.
“I participated in the COVID-19 vaccine trial because I believe in the science — and the scientists — behind it,” Hrabrowski said. “Growing up, I was very aware of the prejudice shown by the medical and scientific community toward Black people. We must recognize the need to put in the work to rebuild trust, particularly at a time when we’re seeing people of color dying of COVID-19 at such high rates. It’s significant that this vaccine was produced under the leadership of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett at the National Institutes of Health, a Black woman who is a graduate of UMBC. She and her colleagues understand the importance of beginning to rebuild trust through a vaccine that can help all of society.”
Other UMMS activities in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday include hospitals collecting messages of hope from staff members which will be displayed and shared internally at sites across the System, recording videos of hope to share internally, coordinating food drives and collections for personal and family essentials, and promoting local and community-based volunteer opportunities.