A message from Gina Calder, FACHE, MPH, president of Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and Progress West Hospital
I have spent the last several months reflecting on my journey through the pandemic. Like many others, I have experienced different emotions during this time. Some have not been positive, including suspicion and fear. When I heard about life-protecting vaccines being made available to health care workers, I did not trust it. I was among the first to receive my vaccination invitation and ignored it. As a young Black woman, I had a long list of “what if” questions. What if the vaccine did not work? What if it affected me worse than COVID-19 would? What if it kept me from starting a family or endangered the health of my future children? At best, I would wait to see how the pandemic and/or vaccine data played out. At worst, I would let fear and misinformation cause me to put my life and the lives of others at risk.
At first, I did not understand how or why I had been invited so early when we were initially focused on vaccinating front-line staff. Over the next several weeks it became clearer to me. Everyone I knew and loved was talking about the vaccine. Many were coming to me asking what I thought and what I had decided to do. I started to feel very uncomfortable responding from a place of suspicion and fear. That’s not who I was or at least not who I wanted to be. But, I was really struggling with this decision, so I reached out to my community for help.
I remember talking with my sister, who is my best friend and a physician, as we wrestled with this decision together. She said if we got vaccinated our family, friends and teams would be much more likely to also get vaccinated. They trusted us. I talked with the medical director of women and children’s about my fertility concerns. She shared research and reassured me the vaccines would not limit my ability to have children or impact their health in any way. I talked with one of my spiritual mentors. She reminded me how much we were all praying for an end to this destructive virus. She encouraged me to continue to be prayerful and not allow myself to be a slave to fear. I realized that the vaccine was a powerful weapon in our battle against COVID-19. And, fear was a tool that was helping COVID-19 continue its rampage. I realized I could not both be a “hero” in the fight to conquer COVID-19 and be on COVID-19’s side of this battle. I had to choose.
Armed with answers from those I trust, my own personal research and prayer, I chose to be vaccinated and continue to encourage others to do the same. As a result of the courage of those who went first, we now know much more about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines than we did in the earlier days of the pandemic. Because it was not an easy decision for me, I can appreciate and will fully support others on their own journeys so we can all go far together.
I am immensely proud and grateful for the privilege to be a leader for BJC and to join our team in taking the lead to protect and promote safety for our teams, our patients, our families and our communities.