A September 2020 study on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Black and Latinx communities found that only 14% of Black Americans trust that the vaccines are safe. Here at OhioHealth, we want every community to feel confident in their decision to get vaccinated. So, we sat down with Kimberly Austin, M.D., an OhioHealth primary care physician, and B.J. Hicks, M.D., an OhioHealth neurologist, to address vaccine hesitancy and get answers to your questions.
Note: If you want to hear Dr. Austin and Dr. Hicks’ answers to the questions, we’ve provided time stamps in our story, to help you get right to the answer in the video above.
As you read on, keep in mind that this information shouldn’t replace the advice of your doctor and was recorded 2/10/21. If you have additional questions, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 website.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 01:57
Hi, my name is Kim Austin, and I have been with OhioHealth for 16 years now. I’ve been a physician for 20 at this point. I went to school in West Virginia at Marshall University, and came to Columbus for residency and loved it and my husband and I decided to stay.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 02:19
And I’m B.J. Hicks. I’m, as you mentioned, I’m a vascular neurologist. And I’ve been a physician for 14 years. And I’ve been with OhioHealth for eight. And, like Dr. Austin, came after my training, after did residency in Detroit, and then stroke fellowship in Houston, Texas. And having been born and raised here in Columbus, I came back for this job, and I’ve never looked back. Best decision career wise I could ever make.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 02:56
So B.J., can you tell me, how has COVID affected your practice so far?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 03:01
Well, my role, a little bit of about that, as a stroke specialist, we wear a lot of hats within the OhioHealth system. So, we see patients in every step of their stroke life. And we see a lot of patients that may mimic a stroke but turned out to be other things. So, my colleagues and I, we see patients in the pre-hospital environment with our mobile stroke unit here in Columbus. So, we’re able to see them before they even hit the hospital. Then in the emergency room setting, we see them in the hospital itself when we round or see patients in the hospital who’ve had stroke or neurological related issues. And then finally we see them back in the office and clinic follow up. So that’s pretty much every stage of somebody’s medical care. And, you know, my stroke team and myself, we see them in these capacities. As far as how COVID has dealt with that we have become more virtual, we’ve had to see patients in a virtual format. And we’ve already done that in the pre-hospital and in the emergency room environment. But we’ve leaned on that a little bit more in those areas. And also, we are now able to see patients in the hospital virtually with telemedicine or virtual health technology. And we can also see patients in the clinic as I’m sure you’re well versed in as well, seeing patients that way. But I think the major takeaway, the major way that COVID has impacted stroke care and neurological care and emergency care is that not only have you know, people been impacted with having COVID in the pulmonary manifestations or kind of the lung the heart, the brain related issues that come with that, but there’s also-there’s been a hesitancy to seek medical care. And in regard to stroke, “time is brain” as we like to say. So, any hesitancy is brain loss, you know, you lose millions of brain cells every minute that you’re having a stroke. So, seconds matter there. And when, about a year or so ago, when this pandemic really began, and we started seeing the horrifying pictures in hospitals across the world, and especially in the New York area, people made the executive decision to stay home. And therefore, unless it was a severe neurological emergency or stroke, people were having their strokes at home, they were having their heart attacks at home, they were having their neurological emergencies at home, which was to their, not to their benefit whatsoever. So that’s something that we’ve really tried to work with the community about: let people know that hospitals are safe places, and that we are taking COVID extremely seriously. There’s 100% mask policy for patients, for clinicians, for anyone walking the hospital. We’re not wearing masks tonight, of course, because everyone in this room, thankfully has been vaccinated, and we’ll talk about that, and we’re also appropriately distanced. So, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, but that’s kind of the nuts and bolts of how COVID has affected my practice personally. And again, I’d like to volleyball that back to you and ask you the same thing. You know, tell me a little bit about your practice through OhioHealth, and how has COVID impacted what you do on a day-to-day basis?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 06:43
Well, with COVID initially, we’ve never shut down; we’ve never missed a day in the office. We did transition to more phone medicine and more video visits for the month of April, mostly. But we quickly came back in May to a lot of in person visits. And we’ve just been doing a lot of trying to reach out to patients for that same kind of reason. So, they don’t have their stroke and their heart attack on those things at home. And just trying to get them to come in for their preventative health, come in for their refills…come in for whatever they need to be seen for. As the numbers rose this summer, we did start to lean a lot more on video visits and Telehealth and in trying to do a lot more of that to keep COVID out of our office so that we can keep our well patient well and keep our sick patients at home safe. And so, we’ve become well versed with video visits and those types of things, and we’re very comfortable with them now. And we’ve maintained that limitation of trying to keep sick people out of the office and trying to see more of our well patients now. And we’ve done a really good job. No one in our office has gotten COVID from the office as of yet and so we’ve done a very good job with that. And now our whole office is pretty much vaccinated. So, we’re hopeful that that we’ll be good for at least a while.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 08:04
Dr. Kimberly Austin 08:06
So, tell me how has your upbringing and being Black, how has that shaped your life as a physician and specifically in how you see COVID with your patients?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 08:22
I have a lot to attribute my career-that’s due in large part to my family. My father was a physician for several years, several decades I should say, here in Columbus and including OhioHealth facilities. It’s hard for him to retire, he’s still kind of kicking because he too, has been vaccinated, soon to get a second vaccine I should point out, and then my sister as well as a dermatologist in town affiliated with OhioHealth. She is also double vaccinator, fully vaccinated. So that was a household where we understood health. And my father’s career was due in large part to counteracting health disparities in the form of cancer. And later in his career, not only with direct patient care, but also with enrolling African American and Black and brown communities into clinical trials. Because he understood just how cancer…the needle was moved so much with the advent of really robust and kind of groundbreaking clinical trials and therapeutic options that wasn’t there when his career began. And he knew that Black and brown communities often missed the boat in being enrolled in those clinical trials to extend their life. And he knew that that was a big issue and he also knew that to truly be able to discuss the different options for therapies, for cancer patients, he needed to look that patient in the eye and say that it’s been studied in people that look like them. So that was his mission and, you know, clearly my career’s been a lot different than his, but you know, that sort of understanding has rubbed off. His friends were work colleagues, they were healthcare providers, they were physicians in town. So that’s just who I grew up around, they were taking care of Black and brown patients and patients of all walks of life here in the Columbus area. So that’s really my-that was my foray into healthcare. He didn’t push me in any way into a healthcare background, he actually wanted me to look into other things. But it allowed me to find what I really wanted to do in medicine. But that along with going to Morehouse College, and then Howard University College of Medicine, those were two places that let you in on the importance of service, and the importance of serving patients that look like you. And even though it does not have to be 100% all those types of patients, but you have to have a unique understanding of what has happened to Black and brown communities as far as healthcare in the past, and you should be an avenue, you should be a vector for changing that and erasing some of that. And being unapologetic about talking about it and having frank discussions with patients that may come from marginalized communities or has had generations who have been mistreated in the healthcare field. So, I’ve always felt the need to be a beacon to erase some of that in any way possible. So, you know, that’s really what I feel has shaped me as an African American physician, as a Black physician, and why I do these sorts of things. So, Dr. Austin, to you, as a physician and member of the Black community, how has all that impacted you and how has it shaped who you’ve been as a physician?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 12:27
For me, I have a little bit of a different story as to how I got into medicine. My mother…and no one in my family is a physician; I’m the first physician in my family. I grew up in poverty…to be truthful. My parents were teachers, and they always had a lot of emphasis on education and trying to be the best that you can be. And they always told me, I could be anything, I can do anything. And they were always very, very supportive of me. And so my mom tells the story of me being about four years old, and just, you know, marching up to her and telling her that I was going to be a doctor. I don’t remember that at all. But I did live my whole childhood, my whole educational career was geared towards becoming a physician; I never want it to be anything else. I did look into honestly going down to Spelman and doing Howard med school and those types of things, but I didn’t really want to leave home, I wasn’t ready to leave home at that time. And so, I didn’t, but the probably the biggest thing that started to shape who I was going to be as a physician, was a tragedy that happened in our family when I was in med school and watching my mom have to go through the hospital visits and the doctor visits and those kinds of things and then years later watching my husband have to go through some medical challenges. And just kind of seeing how we were treated and what happened and, even as a physician, arguments I had to have with people to have people be treated appropriately. That shaped kind of how I see medicine and how I approach medicine and how I want medicine to be presented. You know, we go into doctors’ offices, and oftentimes, our colleagues, we speak over top of everyone’s heads and people leave the visits, they don’t know any more than when they actually got there. And I try not to be that type of physician; I try and actually explain things in ways that people can understand. Even using my own life experiences to try and connect with people so that they can leave and have an understanding. Because I think if we understand more, we will participate more in our own health, in our own lifestyle changes. And a lot of things rely on lifestyle changes and doing things differently to be healthier.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 14:59
Thank you. That was fantastic. I have to piggyback off of that, because it was so good. How has all of that, how’s your worldview that’s been perfectly shaped by what you mentioned, in the COVID era? How have you approached talking about COVID and COVID related issues with your patients and understanding that you have that background, and you kind of have that appropriate worldview with dealing with patients that have otherwise been marginalized?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 15:29
It’s the same. I will sit and talk and explain the vaccines, I send MyChart messages to my entire practice about the vaccines, about my experience with the vaccines personally even. I try and be honest with patients and tell them, you know, after the second vaccine, you may have x y, z, so that it’s not surprising. And we sit and we just have conversations and conversations about why is it that that you’re kind of feeling like maybe you don’t want to have the vaccine. And I understand, and I’ll even say like, I understand where you’re coming from, as far as that’s concerned. We have similar backgrounds, same history. Unfortunately, even lots of Black and brown patients have personal stories of things that they’ve had happen in the medical community, that seem different than what they should have been. And so, trying to work through that, and then throwing in a bit of statistics into that as to, you know, this is your risk of bad things happening with COVID. This is your risk of bad things happening with the vaccine. You know, there’s a big difference there. And I often will tell people, we have two ways out of this: it’s either infection or vaccination. And infection has a much higher risk of you having life changing, residual after effects.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 16:55
And we just don’t know enough.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 16:56
Dr. B.J. Hicks 16:57
And what we know, it’s scary, you know, we know that it could put us in the ground, we know that it has put Black and brown communities in the ground at a higher clip compared to who we are as a relative to the population. And even things that aren’t being discussed about, you know, the long COVID syndrome or COVID long haulers, you know, they’re developing, these are young people, our age and younger, that are developing this chronic fatigue kind of syndrome, where otherwise healthy individuals, they can’t get up and jog, they can barely conduct themselves at a desk job. You know, cognitively, they’re slow, they’re impaired. They’re having issues with balance and dizziness and all sorts of things that aren’t exactly going to pop up on an MRI scan, or a brain scan or a chest Xray. And this is going to follow them for a long period of time. So, you know, you mentioned getting vaccinated versus getting infection. I mean, one is a major gamble. And the other getting vaccinated is something that we have science that is on the side of this and understanding that it’s safe and effective. Where were you-did you know that people, anyone who’s watching, you know, the million billion dollar question for people is “okay, you two got vaccinated. What was it like?” You know, you mentioned, you know, that you let your office know, and I think that’s phenomenal. What did you personally feel?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 18:28
With my first vaccine, I did have concerns in that I have a lot of allergies. And then I actually went to get my first vaccine, even though I was in the middle of an allergic reaction to some cashews I had accidentally eaten, but I was getting that vaccine at that point. And so, I didn’t have any problems with the first one at all. I didn’t take my allergy medicine for the cashew allergy either because I didn’t want it to interfere at all with the vaccine. But I had the tiniest bit of arm discomfort but didn’t stop me from running or doing my push-ups or my yoga or any of the things that I typically do. Now the second vaccine, I got it, it’s been about two weeks ago, about 12 hours after that vaccine I did get about an hour of chills. I then just went to sleep. And then the next morning, I woke up. I teach yoga as well, so I went and taught my yoga class. I did the things I needed to do. But around about noon that day, I was kind of feeling slow is how I described it. And I did feel slow or sluggish for the rest of the day. But the next day, for me was Sunday, I was back to my normal self and didn’t have any problems. I never had a fever, I never had any body aches or bone pain or things like that, that some people have. I didn’t have the nausea either that that we’ve heard about. That was my experience. What about yours?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 19:58
So, first of all, can we just press pause real quick and say, how cool is it that we’ve got a primary care physician through OhioHealth that also teaches yoga? I mean, that is, that’s just real cool. So, I just had to stop and give you props for that, you know, we just had to, we’re not going to let that slide, you know. So, look up Dr. Austin, please. So, what I felt…like you, the first injection was not much. I had a little bit of soreness at the site. It was mild, it wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was noticeable. That went away after about 12 to 24 hours. The second dose, the second portion of the vaccine, like you about 12 hours into it, I’d say maybe 10 hours into it, I started to feel I started to feel like I spiked a fever, and I did have some chills. And I was like, okay, you know, it’s working, you know, these are side effects that have been discussed and written about. And we know that if you have the symptoms, that you can treat them as if you were having them on a regular Tuesday, and you should be fine. And that’s exactly what happened to me. Thankfully, it was right before I went to bed. So, I took some Tylenol, and I went to bed and I slept great. The next day, later on, like, kind of when I woke up. So, I’d say eight hours after that. I felt a not as severe reaction, but I did get a headache. And I could tell that I was getting another temp. And because I had to work, I went ahead and took Tylenol again. And then the rest of the day, I felt all right. A bit fatigued, but really, you know, I was still able to work, I was able to pick my kids up and everything. I felt about 100% about 24 to maybe 30 hours later. I was all the way back, and, you know, I didn’t have…and ever since it’s been, you know, 100% back to me. So, you know, these are things that people we’re always worried about, and a common misconception about vaccines is, you know, when people think of side effects, they think of side effects and medicines that linger. Vaccination or vaccine side effects in COVID is the COVID vaccines are no exception. It’s just that initial reaction…and the initial reaction tells you that it’s working. And once that goes away, then that’s it. No one’s having, you know, oh, that vaccine side effect keeps acting up, you know, that’s that this does not happen. So that’s something that I really want to let people in on that the side effects are good news, you should prepare for them, especially if you’re under 55. The data tells us that, you know, if you’re under 55, the side effect profile will you know tends to increase a little bit, it may be a bit more noticeable. But those who are in you know, older than then that the side effect profile is minimal, if at all. So yeah, those are the things I wanted to discuss.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 23:17
Which vaccine did you get?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 23:19
I had Moderna, and my father and my mother got Pfizer. So, you know, and my sister got Moderna as well. So, I think that’s a great way of letting people know that we’re not favoring one versus the other. They’re both FDA approved. They both have very solid evidence. You know, the FDA, in the fall, kind of when they had that study that African Americans and Black and brown people were hesitant. We didn’t have the data yet. So, we were kind of hoping for 50% you know, because that’s what the flu vaccine gives us. You get FDA approved for vaccines, if you hit about 50%. If you get an F on your test, basically, if it’s like above 50-60%, we’re okay with that. And this was hitting, you know, 95%, you know, Moderna 94% efficacy. So that is jaw dropping numbers, that’s A+ stuff. So, I had a friend of mine a couple weeks ago, his wife’s a teacher, and he texts me, you know, frantically, “Moderna or Pfizer?? Which one’s best?” and I just kind of gave him a silly answer, but I had to tell them, look, they’re all good.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 24:39
Whichever one you can get.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 24:40
Right, right. Which one did you get?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 24:42
I got Moderna as well.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 24:43
Good, very good.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 24:44
But then also my mother got Pfizer, my mother-in-law, I believe got Pfizer as well. So, it’s a mixed bag. Everybody’s done really well with it, though.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 24:56
Yeah. And you know, I think the two-shot scenario, people up to be very mindful of that if you’re an OhioHealth patient, you know, they’re very good about kind of making sure that you’re set up for your follow-up shots. Those that have gotten vaccinated through OhioHealth have been amazed at how smooth the process has been how professional everybody is. There’s not, you know, we’ve seen in the news about these hours and hours of lines, people camping out, you know, that’s, that’s not what’s done through OhioHealth. It could be a very smooth process, you know, it’s just a matter of getting it. But it’s interesting, some people are saying, “well, what if you don’t get it right at the three-week mark, or the four-week mark (Moderna is a four week), you know, kind of change between one versus the second dose and Pfizer is three weeks. So, what if you’re a day or so off? You know, you want to stick as closely to the clinical trials, but what we’re learning kind of from global data is that there’s should be robust coverage, no matter what, you know, even if you miss a day or so. And kind of recently, we found that in the UK, people that have only gotten the one shot, they are robustly protected at very, very high rates. But that, again, is not to say that we should be skipping a second dose. We want to be fully vaccinated, period.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 26:22
And you can get either one of them four days before that three weeks for Pfizer, or four days after that three weeks or Pfizer, or four days before after the 20 days for Moderna as well. And that’s considered normal and acceptable as well.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 26:36
Yeah. So, you know, I don’t know, I think something else it’s been kind of popping up is that, you know, I had somebody on, you know, social media could be a scary place, but you know, someone gets vaccinated, and they’re there, they’re off, you know, they’re off to the races. So, what would you tell your patients about getting vaccinated? “Hey, can I throw this away? Can I kind of get back, you know?” What would your message be to them?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 27:04
I tell everyone. And even after I got my vaccine, I posted on my own social media, like, you will still see me with my mask everywhere we go. And the reason being is, for one, it takes some time to develop that immunity for one and then for two, we’re not sure if once you’ve got the vaccine, does that mean that I can or cannot spread it to other people? We’re not sure, but you may be able to. And so, the whole point of this is to not spread it to each other. And so being able to wear a mask, to me is a very, very simple way that I can make sure that I’m protecting my fellow man and keeping them safe as well. So, I tell my patients, we will probably be masking in the US for another year, or maybe more than that. And it’s going to be something just to get used to. And something that is very, very necessary. As far as I’m trying to really tamp down this pandemic.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 28:01
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And you mentioned kind of protecting your fellow man…that is something that we have to be very mindful of. You know, getting vaccinated the same thing. And to just say, “I’m not going to get vaccinated because I live alone, or I’m under 40”. And, you know, the studies say that, you know, I’ve had, my wife’s relative said, “well, I’m young and I’m healthy. So, I’m good…you know, no thanks.” And it’s, no, that’s not it whatsoever because if you’re going to have that cavalier attitude, then you’re still going to be social, and you’re going to run into people and say, your best friend may not be as healthy as you. And even healthy people get COVID, they get sick and they pass away, especially in Black and brown communities, we’re seeing that. You know, the life expectancy is lowering across the board because of COVID. But it’s extremely lowered in Hispanic communities and Black communities. When you kind of break it down, under 65 years old, those are the people that are still in prime years of life that are being put under because they can track the virus and it is such a gamble. And just to say that, you know, you’re healthy or you live alone, or, you know, these sorts of things, that’s just not a good enough reason because we’re still going to be around people who might be just as healthy as you but guess who they live with? They live with their mother, or their spouse has is immunocompromised, or their child has asthma, or, you know, their roommate is morbidly obese and has lung issues. And all these things are important and that’s the reason why getting vaccinated dramatically lowers the risk of getting symptomatic COVID. That’s what we know right now. So, you’re mentioning, you know, kind of getting vaccinated, we know that, you know, the likelihood of getting sick-sick from COVID…being hospitalized, dying from COVID, dramatically lowers. But we don’t know whether or not you can still have asymptomatic spread. And that’s why we wear masks despite being vaccinated. So that’s a great point. Definitely.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 30:30
So, do your patients ask you about where they can get the vaccine?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 30:34
So, thankfully, OhioHealth is really good about spreading the word. If you’re an OhioHealth patient, there’s a lot of my patients, when they see me back in the clinic, they’re kind of locked into our system. I hear a lot of that in the community about kind of where can I get vaccinated? You know, and how do I get vaccinated? And, you know, through OhioHealth, you know, if you have the OhioHealth page, you know, our website is able to kind of walk you through that very, very nicely. Of course, our state government has, you know, kind of the different protocols and the different kind of buckets as to who’s in the proper phase right now, where it’s 65 and above, as well as healthcare workers. Now, teachers have been vaccinated, as I mentioned. So, there’s kind of different ways, in kind of different buckets that people should understand that they can’t cut the line if they’re not in those particular entities. But, you know, we have to be mindful that not every patient is an OhioHealth patient. And, therefore, going through Columbus public health and the Ohio Department of Health, those are excellent ways to understand how and when to get vaccinated, but OhioHealth patients, we’ve got a very smooth process. Once we get vaccine availability, that’s when we can really get going. So do people kind of talk to you about, you know, is there a cost to it, or are patients asking about being hesitant about, “Hey, is this going to show up on a bill?” Or, you know, “how do I get an appointment?” Since you’re in more of a kind of a primary care outpatient environment, you probably get a lot more questions like this.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 32:27
We do. And I guide people as well to their MyChart first. And then with right now being the 65 and up, it is a true statement that we have given out the phone number a lot, just because a lot of our, you know, 85 year old and 75 year olds may not have access, or even the inclination to get on their phone or computer to do that scheduling. And so, there is a phone number that OhioHealth has as well. The appointments aren’t walking in. You do have to have an actual appointment to actually get the vaccine done. And then my patients who have done it have expressed just great satisfaction with how well run it is. It has not been long waits, like in other places, you’re inside, you’re not actually doing it in your car. And so, they’ve been very, very satisfied with how it was run. And as far as the cost, there isn’t a cost to the vaccine to the patient right now. In the future, who knows, but at least right now, there isn’t a cost to the patient for the vaccine. Now, how are you having conversations with your patients, especially your Black and brown patients, that might have some of that hesitancy to get vaccinated?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 33:48
So, I like to start with the why. Because it’s easy for…and in people kind of in our healthcare field, people in the media, they automatically will jump to something. And you have to understand that that person in front of you may have no idea what Tuskegee was. They may not know who Henrietta Lacks was, yet the media loves to hit those two things. And I’m a history buff; I’m a book nerd, you know, so I can go there with them if that’s their reservation. But a lot of times, and I learned this a lot in my training, I was in Detroit, and once you just ask people individually, that’s when you can tackle it. If you assume and start to just rattle off Henrietta Lacks and Tuskegee experiment and start saying that this is different and yada yada yada. You will miss that their issue might be, “well my dad had a problem in this hospital,” or “my mom went to the emergency room four times before she got appropriately diagnosed. And when that happened, she was intubated, and she never left the hospital.” So, you have to start with what’s your why. You know, I’m on the board for American Heart American Stroke Association, and we always ask what’s your why. You know, so you have to ask, what’s your why about your hesitancy. A lot of times people will just automatically say, “Well, you know, the government was involved. And, you know, the previous administration, that was they’re doing, you know, that’s their vaccine.” And, you know, we know as clinicians, that that couldn’t be further from the truth. You know, the NIH is separate from a political thing. The scientists at Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, which should be coming down the pike soon as a single dose vaccine. You know, in any of the others that may spring up, they do not have a political say, in any of this. The clinical trials were very well vetted. The clinical trials had a great percentage of Black patients, or Black individuals who were in the research, Latinx communities who were in the research, Native American, and Asian and white. So, it, they painstakingly understood that they needed the large swath of United States citizens as a reflection as well as those globally. So, they did an excellent job with that. So, when we were able to look at the data, we were able to say, wow, this is a large percentage of people, a very, very large percentage, these weren’t just 10 or 20, you know, Black and brown folks, these weren’t people that were 20 to 40 years old, they were they took a large segment of demographic groups, including ours. So, we can rest easy understanding that this was well studied, this was nothing political. I think what people also say is, “I don’t want to be a guinea pig.” You know, and we hear this in medicine all the time and our people do that a lot. And that makes sense, you know, who wants to be a guinea pig? And again, that goes back to understanding how these vaccines were FDA approved, just how many patients were involved. The terrible thing was, we’re in a global pandemic, because people were dying at high rates, people were getting infected at very high rates. The tricky silver lining there was that we had a large number of patients that were involved in these trials, and we didn’t have to wait around for patients in trials, you know, for…through OhioHealth, through our stroke program, we are in a lot of clinical trials. And we have to wait around for patients, we have to make sure that they hit the inclusion exclusion criteria, because we’re not going through a pandemic of strokes. But we were going through a pandemic, in regard to COVID-19. So, they were able to get a large number of patients in these clinical trials. So, the quote unquote, guinea pig phase, and that’s a term that both of us probably cringe over. But that phase is done, you know, we’re able to see how these patients did. And they did phenomenal as far as protection. So, I like to start with the why. And if they do say, well, the healthcare community has done poor with us. they’ve treated us as guinea pigs over the years, that’s absolutely fact. That’s irrefutable. But I kind of walk them through kind of the history of medicine, as far as that’s concerned, and how this is so drastically different. How in clinical trials currently in the way the clinical trials were done in this with regard to these vaccines, this is not how it went. So, I kind of have those conversations, and I like analogies. So, I think a great analogy with say Tuskegee, where, you know, people in Tuskegee, Alabama, were subjected to syphilis and the terrible effects of it even though penicillin was known to be a curative, and it was withheld just so they can study what happened to these poor individuals over decades. How different Tuskegee is to present day. And my analogy is voting, you know, in the early part of the previous century, you know, the Jim Crow kind of terror that people had as far as being Black and trying to vote. That was a very, very tall tasks that could get you killed. But now look at present day, what did Stacey Abrams do in Georgia? What did other unapologetic people, who were into voting registration, what did they do in Georgia? They ensured that the majority of people who elected the president, and the two senators were Black folks. They were the highest percentage of people who voted for those people, and they kind of tipped the election in that in favor. And again, this is obviously not a political format, but it lets people in on if we just thought about voting, as that’ll kill you, or, you know, people get lynched for voting in 2020, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And Stacey Abrams, and others who were doing great work on the ground to get people that look like us to the voting booth, they were able to show that. And same thing can be said for vaccinations and clinical trials. Gone are the days where this is like the Tuskegee experiment. You know, that’s not happening here. And I think that’s an analogy that hopefully rings true to people as far as their reservation there. Now that was a long-winded answer. What are the hesitancy things that you are hearing, and how do you help dispel that?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 41:16
A lot of the same: the guinea pig, the distrust, the conspiracy theories that I’ve heard some very, very interesting conspiracy theories. So, a lot of that same type of information. I tend to do a lot more of giving them some statistics, some facts, and then bringing it personal. As far as you know, I’ve gotten mine, you know, my patients know their signs in my rooms about my allergies, and please don’t wear perfumes. So, they know that. And then so they know, I have allergies, they know I’ve gotten mine, they’ve known, I tell them, how it went for me, you know, what I felt at every stage. And then also, I also tell them about my family that have gotten theirs and, and how they’ve done with getting theirs. And so sometimes, you know, especially my more mature patients, they think I’m younger than I am. And so, then they’re like, “well, that was you.” Well, I can tell you my 70 something year old mother and how she went through getting her shots and how it went for her as well. And so sometimes that gives us a little bit more credence to the idea of getting the vaccines. And then I like to make sure people understand what the risk is with COVID, and how COVID itself, how it can change your life and change the trajectory of your life. And, and then do a comparison, this is Russian Roulette, this, we don’t know what’s going to happen to you with COVID. With the vaccine, we know what’s going to happen, you’re going to be protected for a period of time, you might after the second shot have some symptoms, but they’re not going to last. And so, you really have a choice between maybe being short of breath and feeling like you’re suffocating for months, maybe having fatigue for months, maybe getting blood clots, maybe having any of those side effects that we’re seeing happen from COVID. Or you can potentially be protected and feel bad for about 36 hours. And oftentimes they are receptive to that. And then honestly thankful that someone has taken some time to sit down and personally tell them okay, XYZ, this is this is kind of where we are with this.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 43:35
I think that’s perfect. And I think that what we end up doing in the community is kind of hoping that others kind of maybe stars or other people or maybe bigger name clinicians, you know, or people in academia, or in the public health sphere, be the ones to kind of tout kind of how important this is. And that that is absolutely vital. But it’s also extremely vital that the physician that looks like them that they’re going to see or is able to be right, they’re still with their mask on and tell them how that personally was done kind of what are the nuts and bolts about it. And, you know, any anyone who’s watching or those, anyone that knows me knows that I’m not the biggest social media person, you know, my face is not always in the place as far as Facebook is concerned. But we have to understand that these sorts of venues we’ve got to do because we’ve got to reach people that look like us and help them understand that this is something that must be done not only for themselves, but for those they live with for those they love for those in their community, their coworkers, their roommates, you know, all the generations that are still with us. We’ve got to do it for them, period.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 45:01
So, if we had to boil it down to maybe like your top three reasons for why you got the vaccine, what would you say would be the top three reasons to get the vaccine?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 45:10
That’s a good question. The top reason was, for myself, I’m a type one diabetic, and I’m a health care provider. So, there are risks there. And I knew what this virus does. So that I think was first and foremost. The second thing was that I wanted to protect my family. In Columbus, I have a lot of family members who are here in town, I’m blessed to have that I’m blessed that a number of them are healthy, and I wanted them to be protected. And to protect them, I had to make sure that I was vaccinated and protected. The third thing is kind of what we’ve alluded to is that we have to be ambassadors for how safe and effective the vaccine is for people that look like us. So even though I’m not the biggest social media person in the world, we’ve got to do it, because we’ve got to make sure that people understand that this is something that they need to do. And finally, sorry, this is like a 3B or something, but you know, the civil rights adage, “I’m not free, unless everyone’s free, unless we’re all free”. I always take that as a worldview that is near and dear to my heart. And I think COVID and vaccinations are no exception. So, people like to say, oh, you’re vaccinated? Don’t you feel great? And yeah, okay, a little bit. But I am solely concentrated on making sure that everyone in the community in the state of Ohio and Columbus, Ohio, and everyone there everyone in the United States is as many people as possible get vaccinated. And when we see that there’s disparities, as far as people that look like us, that are a little hesitant, I’m alarmed. And that’s alarming to me. And I want to do everything I can to make sure that they see that, hey, I’ve been vaccinated twice. And you should, too, I think we got to do it. So, what are your top three?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 47:25
Well, my first would be my mother. I only have one parent left. And I did, I was terrified initially that I would somehow bring this to my mother. So, my first was to my mother, and I also pressured her to get her vaccine too. Second would be honestly, just to be able to get back to some sort of sense of normalcy like, this is how we can get there. And so, we all have to participate in this. And this was my way of participating in us getting back to some sense of normalcy. And then thirdly, was definitely because somebody had to see someone do it first. I mean, and I know the value of us being seen getting it done. Now, I didn’t videotape my vaccine. Because on top of allergies, I also have a phobia for needles. And so, my second vaccine, another friend was getting her vaccine right in front of me, and I saw her needle and I broke out in the cold sweat. And they all kind of swarmed me and all of those things. I wasn’t going to have a panic attack in front of people, because I wasn’t doing that. But still I had the cold sweats, they had to do the whole distraction thing, because I have a needle phobia. But I was still going to get my vaccine needle phobia or not. So, you’ll never see a video of me getting a shot. But someone had to see and know that we got these shots, we did okay, we’re completely fine. We did them despite any fears or hesitations or concerns that we might have had, because this is for the betterment of mankind.
Missy Gleason 49:09
I hate to but in, but we do have some questions from our audience. You guys are doing such a great job talking, but we actually had somebody asked, “when are they going to get to my questions?” So, I was hoping I could kind of get through a few of those. Are you guys okay with that?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 49:22
Missy Gleason 49:23
All right. So, one of these, one of our earlier questions was can you give us your thoughts on how long the vaccine will last before a booster is needed? So, I’m guessing…
Dr. Kimberly Austin 49:32
We don’t know. I mean, that’s really…it boils down to we don’t know. And time will tell.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 49:39
Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. A lot of people you know, we like to say trust the science, trust the science. We’ve got to trust the science and understand that this pandemic hit us a year ago, and these vaccines just hit us in December. So, we are early in this. Smart Money is that this will be, this might be something that we get like the flu vaccine where this is an annual thing. Until we get a hardcore vaccine to end all vaccines, you know, we know the measles vaccine when you get that you are not getting measles and you are not giving measles to anyone else. And that’s why that condition just plummeted. But with something as nuanced as a Coronavirus, that has ravaged the world like it has, we have to be mindful that this might be something that we get, you know, we got our two doses, and we’ve got to see what happens. And this might be an annual booster, it might not be but it in very well might be. We’ve heard a lot about variants. And the beauty of the way these vaccines were created is that if there’s a major variant that has been shown to not be…to just kind of go right through our current vaccines, they can get booster shots that can be targeted, based on how the spike protein works with how the virus kind of latches on to us, they’re able to kind of look at it and create an updated vaccine that would be able to target. And that’s why we’re very confident in the medical community that subsequent booster shots if they’re needed, would be extremely effective. So that’s just something we have to be mindful for. But it’s early, as Dr. Austin mentioned.
Missy Gleason 51:40
Very true. So why is the safety protocol the same for vaccinated people, so masks, social distancing?
Dr. Kimberly Austin 51:48
Well, they actually just change that today, as far as if you have finished both of your vaccines and you’re two weeks out from your second vaccine, for the next three months if you happen to be exposed, you don’t have to quarantine and all of those things. For now, will that three months be stretched out? Perhaps, we don’t know. But if you’ve been fully vaccinated and it’s two weeks after your vaccine, you pretty much have two and a half months, where if you get exposed, you don’t have to quarantine they do want you to watch for symptoms and all those things. And if you develop symptoms, okay, all bets are off. But for two and a half months, you can avoid that right now.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 52:32
And that’s obviously great news. And but yet, Dr. Austin and I will still be masking up…
Dr. Kimberly Austin 52:39
Dr. B.J. Hicks 52:39
We’ll still be physical distancing when appropriate. Because the robust the great evidence that we have from the trials that came out to have FDA approval from these vaccines, or at least emergency use authorization for these vaccines, that was based off how well it does to keep patients out of the hospital keep people from getting symptoms of COVID. But the asymptomatic spread of the of the virus we’re not quite sure about yet. So, we can assume. But in science, we don’t like to do a lot of assumption. So, you know, it’s really easy to put this thing on. And it could protect us. You know, you mentioned your mother, you know, I have older, I mentioned my parents, you know, I have a grandmother who’s in her mid 90s in Pittsburgh right now. So, you know, it’s a lot easier to put a mask on, than it would be just to kind of say ah, forget it. We’re going to live the way we want. And then all of a sudden, we find out months down the line that hey, there’s actually some asymptomatic spread that you can still get with the with the vaccine. We’re very hopeful that that’s not what happens. But this early, we should be on the safe side.
Missy Gleason 54:05
So how soon after you get your second shot, are you vaccinated? Are you at that full efficacy?
Dr. B.J. Hicks 54:11
Dr. Kimberly Austin 54:12
Yeah, we say two weeks.
Missy Gleason 54:16
So not bad, not too much longer. So, are we working to get the vaccine to minority communities? It seems like access is lagging behind.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 54:26
Yeah, that’s a hard situation.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 54:30
It definitely is. And I think we in Columbus should be very thankful that our head of Columbus public health is a Black female, Dr. Mysheika Roberts, and also, Dr. Joe Mazzola with the Franklin County Department of Public Health. These are two individuals who I know well, and they are very mindful of this and they are trying their best to ensure once they have enough vaccines, that they’re entering communities that may not have the access that we would love to see. Right now, it’s a lot easier to get set up with a vaccine if you’ve got a great smartphone. And if you’ve got great internet access, and you’ve got access to your computer 24/7/365. That’s wishful thinking in certain communities. And so, they’re mindful of that. And they’re thinking of ways outside of the box to ensure that those communities that may not have access to that sort of thing, be ready, willing and able to vaccinate those that want it in communities that desperately need it but may not otherwise have access to those things. So that’s more to come there. Current numbers are sad, right now, I can’t lie, they’re a little depressing. So, it’s something that they’ve got to actively work on. So along with giving people the information that we’re giving tonight about not being so hesitant about it, others outside of our pay grade have to make sure that the vaccine is available to them.
Missy Gleason 56:20
Well, we’re getting close to eight o’clock. And we are down towards the end of our questions, so I just wanted to ask you both: do you have any final thoughts? I will start with you, Dr. Austin.
Dr. Kimberly Austin 56:31
I think my final thought would be, and I said it earlier, the way we get out of this is really either infection or vaccination. And, and this is a way out. I know 2020 has been a very interesting and hard in many ways year for us, and no one wants to continue on along that same path for years and years and years to come. And this is the way we get out is vaccination or infection. And if I have to pick between the two, I’m picking vaccination every time.
Dr. B.J. Hicks 57:08
I think that’s perfectly said. This is an open door for us, so we’ve got to take it. This virus has ravaged Black and brown folk, and the numbers are shocking. We see the patients, so we have a unique view of what this is doing to us. So now we have something that is safe, safe for us safe for those at home. And we’ve just had to continue to get the word out about just how safe this is. And just understand that the historical wrongs in the healthcare field are not what this is. And people really have to be mindful of that and really walk into, lean into getting vaccinated for themselves and for their community writ large. They have to.
Missy Gleason 58:13
Thank you. So, we are out of time for tonight, but we are not out of information. So, if you’d like to learn more about the COVID vaccines, we have plenty of information at OhioHealth.com and on the OhioHealth Wellness blog. And in the coming days we’ll have closed captioning up on this video, as well as a transcript of tonight’s live on the OhioHealth Wellness blog. I want to thank Dr. Austin and Dr. Hicks both for taking the time out of their evenings and coming through the snow to share their experience and knowledge with us tonight. We appreciate you both for being here. Thank you. We will see you next time.
This article is a transcript of a live interview conducted on Facebook on February 10, 2021. Due to the changing nature of COVID-19, some information might be dated. Always check with the CDC for the latest changing information concerning COVID-19.