On Monday, Dec. 14, five frontline workers at the University of Maryland Medical Center known as the “first five” received the COVID-19 vaccine. Two of them were Black women — one a nurse and the other a doctor.
“My mother had COVID, my brother had COVID, in addition to my brother-in-law,” Shawn Hendricks, nursing director of medicine at UMMC, told Yahoo News in a video interview. “It took my mother two months to recover in the hospital from COVID. So I knew that COVID had already hit my family and I didn't want it to hit my household too.”
Dr. Sharon Henry, a professor of surgery at UMMC and another one of the first five, said she had no hesitation about receiving the vaccine.
“My thought was, why not be out in front of it?” Henry recalled to Yahoo News. “Why not be one of the first people who do that?”
SHARON HENRY: All these things that every hospital in the United States has decided to highlight a minority to receive the vaccine first, is it a little bit cliche? OK, yeah. But the good we are trying to work towards, the message that we're trying to send is the right message. So I'm willing to be that prop, if that's what I am.
My name is Sharon Henry. And I am an Attending Surgeon at the RA Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland. I took the vaccine on Monday the 14th, and my thought was, why not be out in front of it? Why not be one of the first people who do that?
I have to say in the political climate that we were dealing with up until the certified electoral college results came back, I must admit, I did have some questions about the process, because I think the corners that were cut were not the scientific corners.
So the shortcuts that were taken that got the vaccine out quickly were those that had to do with production and distribution, more so than those that had to do with scientific rigor or the process of developing the vaccine and testing the vaccine. Those stayed true to the scientific process.
SHAWN HENDRICKS: My name is Shawn Hendricks. I'm the Director of Medicine and Cardiac Services in the Telecenter Program here at the University of Maryland Medical Center. I took the vaccine because that was a big conversation in my household. When we heard that the vaccine was going to soon be available, in general in my household, we knew that we were going to always take the vaccine.
My mother had COVID. My brother had COVID, in addition my brother-in-law. It took my mother two months to recover in the hospital from COVID. So I knew that COVID had already hit my family, and I didn't want it to hit my household too. I was never skeptical about taking the vaccine. Being in the medical field for over two decades now, I believe in the science.
SHARON HENRY: As a Black person and somebody who has tried to conduct scientific research, I know it is hard to get Black people into clinical trials, period. When you say the word experiment to a Black person, all they think of is the syphilis Henrietta Lacks. They think so many of the negative things, the stuff that has been so non-transparent, you know what I mean?
Everything's behind closed doors. People lied. They didn't feel compelled to tell the truth about what they were studying, how they were studying it, et cetera, et cetera. You know, since those days, there have been so many checks and balances put into place about the conduct of human research that those kinds of lapses can't happen anymore.
I think the way to get more buy-in from the Black community with regard to established health care is for health care to be transparent about what's happening in those ivory towers, for big medical centers to get involved in the community so that people know who those people are in those buildings, and for the people in those buildings to look like the people in the community.
I think that's important, this issue of diversity and equity in our big medical centers, and in medical schools, and community hospitals wherever you are.
SHAWN HENDRICKS: I know that there has been hesitance about the vaccine and so forth, which is understandable. I haven't gotten any backlash about getting the vaccine. I actually want to say I have gotten so many text messages, inboxes, emails to the contrary, saying, you know, that I was really on the fence about this vaccine, and again, well over 300,000 deaths across the United States.
The numbers are continuing to increase daily, more so in some places than others. And once again, I think that if we're going to get any type of hold on this pandemic, we have to do widespread vaccination so that we can start to have some immunity, which, again, we can get to some type of normalcy. Otherwise, I only see this pandemic getting worse and lasting longer.