Caribbean physicians urge community to take COVID-19 vaccine

Registered Nurse, Diana Maldonado, at Interfaith Medical Center, administers Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Dr. Yolande Thomas-Badal on Dec. 18.
Dr. Prissana Alston

As many in the global community, including the Caribbean community in New York, express fear, reluctance or hesitance about taking the COVID-19 vaccine, some Caribbean-born physicians are urging community members to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

In exclusive interviews with Caribbean Life earlier this week, at least three Caribbean physicians — a Trinidadian, a Guyanese and a Vincentian – said taking the vaccine is the right and judicious thing to do.

“It’s important that people take the vaccine,” said Dr. Yolande Thomas-Badal, a Trinidadian-born internist and Emergency Room physician at Interfaith Medical Center in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, who took the COVID-19 vaccine at her hospital on Friday.

“The vaccine is our first best defense from contracting COVID-19,” added Dr. Thomas-Badal, stating that she took the vaccine, because it “offers protection.

“Also, I have a 91-year-old mother, and I don’t want my mother to be infected,” she said, disclosing that “I just got married, on April 13, 2019, and my husband will be coming up (from Trinidad and Tobago), and I don’t want him to get infected.

“You have to think of the other people who you’re around,” Dr. Thomas-Badal continued. “Being on the frontline and seeing patients with coronavirus; and, if there’s anything to help me to prevent coronavirus, I’ll do it.”

She noted that “a lot of minorities have underlying medical problems, such as diabetes, cancers, and coronavirus (is) killing a lot of my people.”

Dr. Thomas-Badal said some of her patients are reluctant to take the vaccine, saying that “they don’t trust” it.

But Dr. Thomas-Badal stressed that “education is our best defense.”

“A lot of people want to wait to see what happens (with the COVID-19 vaccine), but, sometimes, we just can’t wait,” she urged. “We have to find a way to boost people’s confidence.

“It’s good that the President-elect (Joe Biden) took it (vaccine) and encouraged people to take it,” she added.

Dr. Thomas-Badal said that, after taking the vaccine, she had a “slight induration,” in the area where it was administered, and “felt a little tired the next day, but it was gone.

“It’s an education thing,” she emphasized. “People have to be educated. You have to sit with people and explain how it (vaccine) works. We have to explain to others and even family members.

“I want to get back to where we were – to gather, to sit and eat,” Dr. Thomas-Badal continued. “It may take a while, but I’m glad we have the vaccine.”

Cooking callaloo soup: Dr. Clifford Young (2nd from left) stirs pot with, from left, Arden Tannis, Laverne McDowald-Thompson and Celia Bramble at Vincy Unity Picnic at Brown’s Bay Park, 1,000 Is., Ontario, Canada in July 2017. Photo by Nelson A. King

Dr. Clifford Young – a Vincentian-born attending physician at Woodhull Medical Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant and SUNY Downstate Medical Center and University Hospital in Central Brooklyn, in the heart of the Caribbean community in Brooklyn – said that, while “Black people in this country are fearful of this vaccine, this vaccine is safe.

“I look at the data, and the vaccine is safe,” he accentuated. “Caribbean people and Blacks should take the vaccine.

“We have the most morbidity and mortality; so, we should take it (vaccine),” said Dr. Young, who also has a private medical practice in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. “We suffer the most, we’re are an at risk-population, and we should be at the head of the line.”

He disclosed that his brother, James Young, a radiographer at Kings County Hospital in Central Brooklyn, took the vaccine last week.

“Should we be fearful of the vaccine? And the answer is ‘no,’” Dr. Young said. “When my turn comes, I’ll take it.”

Guyanese-born Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, a St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada-trained physician, said the Caribbean community should “embrace the vaccine and marvel at the efforts that the world’s scientists have created.

“It’s important to get outside of our politics and see humanity as a species,” said Dr. Ramsammy, who has a private medical practice in Freeport, Nassau County, Long Island. “The vaccine will benefit the world. In the meantime, social distancing and masks remain effective.”

The Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it has currently authorized and recommended two vaccines are to prevent COVID-19: ​​​​Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine​​.

On Dec. 14, a Jamaican-born nurse created history by becoming the first person in the United States to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sandra Lindsay, 52, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, received the vaccine shortly before 9:30 a.m., according to a statement from the Office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The statement said Guyanese-born Dr. Michelle Chester, Northwell Health Director of Employee Health Services, administered the vaccine to Lindsay, a front-line health care worker eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase 1 of New York’s Vaccine Distribution Plan.

The vaccine was developed by New York-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer and authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and New York’s Clinical Advisory Task Force.

Cuomo virtually joined Northwell Health president and chief executive officer Michael Dowling, Dr. Chester and nurse Lindsay for the first administration of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Northwell Health is the largest health system in the State of New York.

“Gov. Cuomo, I’m feeling well,” said Lindsay after receiving the vaccine. “I would like to thank all the frontline workers, all my colleagues, who’ve been doing a yeoman’s job throughout this this pandemic all over the world.

“I am hopeful. I feel I hope today, relieved,” she added. “I feel like healing is coming, and this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history.

“I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe,” Lindsay continued. “We’re in a pandemic; and so, we all need to do your part to put an end to the pandemic and to not give up so soon. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we still need to continue to wear our masks, to social distance.

“I believe in science,” Lindsay stressed. “As a nurse, my practice is guided by science; and so, I trust that. What I don’t trust is that, if I contract COVID, I don’t know how it would impact or those who I come in contact with. So, I encourage everyone to take the vaccine.”

Cuomo responded: “You said it very well Sandra. We trust science here in New York. The federal government approved the vaccine. We then had a separate panel that also approved the vaccine, and we’ve been following the science all along.

“I hope this gives you, and the healthcare workers, who are battling this every day, a sense of security and safety and a little more confidence in doing your job once the second vaccine has been administered,” the governor said.

He said healthcare workers in New York are prioritized at the top of the list to receive the vaccine, “because we know that you are out there every day putting your lives in danger for the rest of us.

“So, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep you safe,” Cuomo said. “And the point about New Yorkers and Americans having to do their part and take the vaccine, because the vaccine only works if the American people take it. They estimate we need 75 percent to 85 percent of Americans to take the vaccine for it to be effective.

“So, every American has to do their part,” he added. “And your point is right; it’s going to take months before the vaccine hits critical mass.

“So, this is the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel, and we need people to continue to do the right thing and the smart thing all through the holiday season,” he continued. “And, hopefully, when we get to about June, they estimate, the vaccine can hit critical mass.”

Dowling noted that his health services are in eastern Queens, stating that the borough was “the epicenter of the COVID issue back a number of months ago.

“This is where it hit the hardest,” he said. “And this facility, Long Island Jewish, was right at the center. And here at Northwell, you know, we’ve seen well over 100,000 COVID patients, and, at one point in April, we had over 3,500 patients in our hospitals. So, it’s a pleasure to be here with Sandra and Dr. Chester.”

Dr. Chester said tersely: “Everything worked perfectly. Thank you.”

Haitian Dr. Yves Duroseau, chair of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, was the second person on Dec. 14 to be vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Everything we have done from the start of this pandemic has been based on the facts, and the facts are that COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all on the rise all across the country,” Cuomo said. “We are on an unsustainable trajectory; and, if we don’t act now, hospitals could become overwhelmed come January.”