Healthcare Staff Now Have Extra Layer of Protection
Jan 7, 2021
Liz Madison

California is smashing daily records for COVID-19 cases as the post-holiday surge comes to a head. The difference now is that a vaccine exists.

Vaccine deployment continues across Sutter Health. The plans developed by its healthcare leaders to vaccinate nurses, doctors and other front-line workers are now reality. Vaccination clinics are well underway, from hospitals to care centers across the 22 Northern California counties Sutter serves. In fact, some front-line staff have already received their second dose.

“Our planning and our own longtime experience with administering vaccines to large populations across our integrated network has been very helpful,” said William Isenberg, M.D., Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer.

During this first phase, in accordance with guidance from public health officials, Sutter has offered vaccine first to frontline healthcare workers. This includes those who are at the highest risk for exposure, based on where they work and the type of contact they have with patients. In addition to staff from hospitals and care centers, other workers like those in home health who care for vulnerable patients have also started receiving the vaccine via the clinics organized through Sutter’s network.

Stephanie Brown, M.D., an emergency medicine doctor from Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, was one of the initial staff to receive her first vaccine dose. Her reasons to vaccinate were not only professional, but also profoundly personal.

Doctor with vaccination card

Dr. Brown proudly shows her record of vaccination.

Dr. Brown acknowledges that people of color feel a great deal of uncertainty when faced with the decision to vaccinate. She is the descendent of enslaved Africans, the daughter of two African American doctors and originally hails from the south side of Chicago. She understands the reasons why the African American community harbors distrust in the healthcare system given the systematic oppression that African Americans have experienced throughout U.S. history.

“But it will be doubly tragic if these historical wrongs keep people of color from getting vaccinated and protecting themselves and our communities,” she said.

Dr. Brown, who is also the clinical lead for Sutter Health’s Institute for Advancing Health Equity, pointed to the current rigorous oversight of medical research. She added that people of color have helped create the vaccine and stepped up to demonstrate its safety. An African American scientist, Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., was at the forefront of developing the Moderna vaccine. That vaccine was reported to have 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease. Before the vaccine’s approval, thousands of people volunteered to take it. Ten percent of those individuals were African American, which is in line with the African American share of the total U.S. population.

“As a doctor, the data tells me it is safe. As an African American, knowing that people who share my ethnicity and history helped develop the vaccine makes me feel trust,” she said. “I got vaccinated for my family, my community and for this country, so that we all may begin to heal from this pandemic.”

Read Dr. Brown’s first-person story here.

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