An Emergency Room physician in a leading professional team at Penn Medicine, Dr. Chidinma Nwakanma doesn’t hold back in her interview with Nick Taliaferro on Evening WURDs about her experiences as we approach a year of this pandemic. Being face to face, daily, with patients who were, “on death’s door,” especially in the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Chidinma stresses that many of the horrors she witnessed were much worse than anything the media could have depicted. In fact, without much public knowledge of COVID in the early days of the pandemic, many people began piling into hospitals only after their situations had worsened, when they were in the, “last stages of the disease.” Symptoms of patients ranged from mild fevers and coughs to body aches, vomiting, and even diarrhea. Doctors watched in shock from beneath their extensive protective gear, armoring themselves with N95 masks, protective coverings over their clothes, and even large helmets to keep themselves from falling prey to the disease they witnessed tear families apart. And as each day rolled into the other these horrors became her reality, “a part of [her] existence,” in fact, and even things like dressing in her extensive protective gear each day at work to this day has become, “a second nature,” for her and her staff. And although the early days of the pandemic were the most frightening and challenging for her, Dr. Chidinma Nwakanma has garnered a hope that has gotten her through her days then– a hope she still holds today.
Now, Dr. Nwakanma is working on a collaborative project between Penn Medicine and Mercy designed to address the vast inequity of COVID outcomes and vaccine distribution in Philadelphia. This initiative would establish pop-up vaccination clinics throughout the city in order to get our Black and Brown communities vaccinated, focusing on key areas including Southwest and West Philly who’ve been hardest hit by the pandemic. Using the Moderna vaccine, this initiative will prioritize the elderly population, frontline workers, and those with high risk medical conditions. But Dr. Nwakanma stresses that no one will be turned away and that they will vaccinate to the last vial, especially since storage of the Moderna vaccine remains an obstacle in distribution.
There is no doubt that there are many obstacles to face in vaccinating our communities, including accessibility and especially, “vaccine distrust [and] hesitancy,” due to historically unethical medical practices on Black and Brown communities. However, Dr. Nwakanma remains optimistic that our community seeing more people like her– an African-American woman– within the medical staff and making persistent efforts to connect with them will establish a newfound trust that can help Black and Brown Philadelphians to fight this disease for good.
Listen to the interview below: