TRANSCRIPT: COVID-19 Vaccine 401: Racial and Ethnic Disparities

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Dr. Jeff Balser:

Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us for Vaccine 401.

It's part of our series of videos to provide you with important information about the COVID 19 vaccine. In this video, we will talk about racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare delivery and how those disparities manifest in the COVID-19 pandemic and particularly how they relate to vaccination.

Over the past year, we have committed to working forcefully on anti-racism and equity at VUMC. In part, that means designing our educational materials to address the concerns of all members of our workforce.

This video is part of that effort. We'll discuss how people of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID, from new cases to hospitalizations and even deaths. And we will talk about the COVID vaccine research and outcomes across the different races, including efficacy and side effects.

Many of you have already been vaccinated. Thank you for making that choice. For those who haven't made an appointment, you may still have some questions. The purpose of this video is to get you some answers.

Today, we have 2 exceptional Vanderbilt doctors here to help us. Dr. Dan Munoz is a cardiologist and Dr. Aima Ahonkhai is an infectious disease expert. Both are clinicians with a deep understanding of health concerns of our communities of color. Dr. Munoz.

Dr. Dan Munoz:

Gracias, Dr. Balser. Thank you, Dr. Balser and hello, everyone. My name is Dr. Dan Munoz and I am a cardiologist here at Vanderbilt. I've been at VUMC since 2012.

As the proud son of immigrants, I went into medicine to care for patients made vulnerable by disease, but as importantly, I went into medicine to help prevent illness. That prevention focus has never been more important than during the current COVID pandemic. Thanks to the heroics of science, we now have a way to prevent COVID-related illness. We now have a vaccine. I'm so glad to be here today to talk to you about this.

Dr. Alma Ahonkhai:

Thank you, Dr. Balser and hello, everyone. My name is Dr. Aima Ahonkhai. I am an infectious diseases doctor and researcher and have been at Vanderbilt since 2016. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but spending time in Nigeria where my parents were born and raised and in cities and states across the US, I questioned why people of color, wherever they lived, often had to contend with greater health challenges.

This was my motivation for becoming a doctor and my motivation for talking with communities, especially of color about COVID-19 vaccines. I'm happy to be here today to have this conversation with you and Dr. Munoz.

Dr. Munoz:

As a practicing physician, I know a vaccine is very important to protect us. And in the case of COVID-19, a vaccine will be a key part of getting us back to a life where we can visit with family and friends and go to restaurants or large family gatherings. I, like you, am really looking forward to those days. But if we don't take the step to get vaccinated, those days could be an even longer way away.

I'm happy to share that I've been vaccinated against COVID 19. Both shots in the 2-shot series went pretty smoothly. My first shot gave me a sore arm for a day or 2, just like getting the flu shot. A few weeks later, my second shot produced mild muscle aches for a day which quickly went away. I still wear my mask and practice social distancing, but I now have the peace of mind that comes from knowing I'm doing everything to protect myself, my family, and you.

Dr. Ahonkai:

I had a very similar experience as Dr. Munoz. I received 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. After the first dose, I had a mild sore arm. After the second dose, I had less soreness, but a slight headache and I was tired for about a day.

Even before I received the vaccine, I did do my research. I reviewed the data on how the vaccine was developed and the studies that evaluated how well it worked. Even as an infectious diseases physician, I listened to talks by vaccine experts to learn even more.

I knew that my decision would impact not only me but family, friends, community, and patients. I wanted to be well-equipped to lead by example and answer questions honestly based on the data and on my personal experience and I'm glad to be here to share that with you.

Dr. Munoz:

Now that we have shared our stories, we would like to discuss some of the vaccine-related concerns we have heard from patients, family, and community members.

Let's start with why getting the vaccine is so important. This virus does not discriminate and does not care if you are Black, Brown, White, woman, or man. African-Americans, Hispanics, and indigenous people are about 1 1/2 more likely to get COVID, 4 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result, and 3 times more likely to die from COVID.

This is a big reason why I decided to get the vaccine. Vaccines safely teach our immune system how to recognize specific infections before they infect us and make us sick. In response to the vaccine, our immune systems will make what are called antibodies. Those same antibodies protect us from the real virus, protect us from getting sick and maybe ending up in the hospital.

Dr. Ahonkai:

There is a history of deception and mistreatment of minorities involved in medical research in the United States. This history can cause some to pause and think, "Is this the repeat?" It's very important to ask questions about how the studies were done and take a close look at the findings.

As a researcher, I know and want to assure you that the conditions that allow the Tuskegees of our history can not happen today because of the guidelines that all researchers, including myself, must follow when we conduct studies.

Another important question that many people of color have asked is whether these vaccines have been studied in our communities. I also looked for these answers when I reviewed the data. The good news is that in the studies for the 2 currently approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, more than 1 out of 3 people were minorities and the vaccines worked consistently across racial and ethnic groups.

The outcomes of the study were so promising that the decision was made to make these vaccines available for the public as fast as possible.

The rapid development and availability of the vaccines reflects a combination of both the science and the production.

On the science side, we were fortunate to be able to build on years of research from scientists including some here at VUMC working on vaccines for other related viruses to quickly apply to COVID-19. Once scientists developed vaccine candidates, we were able to enroll and test them quickly because being in a pandemic means there's a lot of disease in the community. We can more easily see over a short time period if the vaccine is effective.

To speed the process up even further, there were multiple tests going on at the same time and the federal government started manufacturing in case the vaccines showed they worked. The great news is that they worked even better than anyone predicted and reduced the risk of COVID-19 disease by 95%.

Dr. Munoz:

But is 95% risk reduction really that good? The answer is yes and let me explain why. In studies of thousands of people -- and I, myself participated in one of these studies -- about half the people were given the vaccine and the other half were not. People that got the vaccine were 95% less likely to get COVID-19. This is really reassuring.

You may be saying, "But 95% is not 100%." You should know, in the world of vaccines, finding a vaccine that will help 100% of the time is very rare. For perspective, here's some history about other successful vaccine efforts:

  • Thanks to a vaccine, smallpox has been eradicated globally.
  • A vaccine has caused a 93% reduction in whooping cough cases.
  • A vaccine has caused a 99% reduction in cases of mumps.
  • And polio has been eliminated in the United States and most of the world, thanks to a vaccine.

In the case of COVID-19, the vaccine protects people like us from getting seriously ill and even dying. One last point. Unlike in the studies I just described, in which some volunteers got real vaccine and some did not, in the current vaccination efforts, everyone gets the actual vaccine. This is not a study or an experiment. This is a proven vaccine being delivered to each of us.

Dr. Ahonkai:

To date, VUMC has vaccinated over 18,000 employees and most people express having a sore arm but some have felt a little under the weather or had an allergic reaction. No one has had a severe reaction or ended up in the hospital.

You'll likely experience some mild to moderate side effects after the vaccination, such as the sore arm, may be fever, muscle aches, headache, or tiredness. These side effects are all good signs because they show that your body is building immunity. Rest assured that the vaccine does not give you the virus and these reactions are much better than getting really sick from COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Munoz:

We hope that we have shown you why it's important for you to get the vaccine. It is safe and will build your immunity so you don't become severely ill from the virus. Please, for your safety and for the safety of those you love, please get the vaccine.

Dr. Ahonkai:

I personally view my own act of vaccination as an act of social justice. I fear that if our communities don't get vaccinated, the COVID-19 disparities we have already seen will only get worse. Sharing this message with you is my personal and professional duty and privilege.

So ... how do you get the vaccine if you're a VUMC employee? You must enroll using the VUMC website.

Thank you to all of you for what you're doing for our patients and please stay safe.