Feb. 24 COVID-19 Community Update: How Emory is helping lead vaccine efforts

By Amir St. Clair, associate vice president and executive director of COVID-19 response and recovery | Feb. 24, 2021

View the Feb. 18 COVID-19 town hall, the latest in an ongoing series of virtual Emory community conversations providing updates and information about vaccines.

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Emory Forward

When Emory began hosting virtual COVID-19 town halls last year, our primary focus was to provide vital information and share the latest developments with the wider community.

At the same time, these forums have provided an incredible glimpse into the important work being done throughout the Emory community in response to the virus — as told through the personal stories of those engaged in efforts to understand, treat and mitigate COVID-19.

People like Dr. Monique Smith, an emergency physician at Grady Memorial Hospital who’s been working on the frontlines of COVID-19 care. Like many of us, she’s spent the past year navigating the pandemic with new anxieties and fears. 

As a wife and mother, those concerns drove her to temporarily isolate from her husband and then 18-month-old daughter for a month last year in order to reduce the risk of infecting them.

And though she will tell you that she’s been privileged to care for COVID-19 patients, Smith has also felt the heartache of seeing the virus disproportionately impact people in Atlanta’s Black and Latino communities, where pockets of vaccine hesitancy may remain.

Yet the virus continues to present risks and create devastating impacts on lives young and old.

During the Feb. 18 town hall, Smith described treating a patient who was barely 20, in prime health and training to become a professional athlete. Over the course of Smith’s eight-hour shift, she saw that patient quickly shift from someone who was alert and talking to requiring interventions to help him breathe and keep his heart pumping blood throughout his body. 

That’s a powerful reminder of the potential impact of COVID19 and why we must remain diligent in continuing to practice basic health and safety protocols, including face masks, hand washing and physical distancing — especially in light of the recent surge in cases on campus.

Vaccines create hope

As Smith has watched the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and understanding the science that supports it, “for me, as a physician, as a Black mom, wife and daughter having seen what I have seen … it’s a little bit of a no-brainer to get the vaccine,” she shared.

“In modern medicine, there is perhaps nothing more central to wellbeing than this idea of vaccines — something that science has mastered in order to protect us, to allow us to engage and be healthy and in community with one another,” Smith said.

You may know that Emory Healthcare has taken a lead role in helping administer the rollout of those vaccines in Georgia, as determined by state guidelines.

At the same time, Emory students are also playing an active role in vaccine distribution, contact tracing and community outreach and education — part of a broad service effort. 

For example, at Mercedes Benz Stadium, among Fulton County’s largest vaccination sites, Emory School of Medicine students have been working tirelessly to administer COVID-19 vaccines. They’ve been joined by nearly 200 students from the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, who’ve been participating at COVID-19 vaccinations clinics around Georgia. And the Rollins School of Public Health has assigned student epidemiology fellows to consult with and support health districts throughout the state. 

Emory stands ready

At Emory and across Georgia, interest in vaccines remains high. While we are currently operating in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, estimates are that we will move to Phase 1B sometime in March. When that happens, and vaccines are allocated, Emory will notify all eligible faculty, staff and students who may fit 1B criteria by email through our HOME system.

You do not need to contact us to be added to the list. We are already actively planning for vaccinating the entire Emory community as state phases and vaccine supplies allow. But if you can get a vaccine now, either through Emory Healthcare or elsewhere, please do so. 

While vaccines offer a vital tool in our fight against COVID-19, remember that they must be paired with the other health and safety practices we’ve all become accustomed to, both on and off campus. 

This is a critical moment in our fight; we must be vigilant and partner together. 

As a community, I know that’s something we can achieve.