Tue | Sep 28, 2021

Jamaican clinicians playing major role in South Florida COVID-19 fight

Published:Sunday | July 25, 2021 | 12:10 AMKaryl Walker - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Dr Beverly Fray
Dr Beverly Fray
Carol Biggs
Carol Biggs
Cynthia Archibald
Cynthia Archibald
Dr Stephen Symes
Dr Stephen Symes
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A group of Jamaica-born clinicians based at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, have been playing a vital role in educating Caribbean nationals on the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and ways to combat the virus.

The medical professionals have embarked on an initiative dubbed ‘COVID-19 Jamaican/Caribbean Community Conversations’ – the brainchild of Dr Beverly Fray, a corporate clinical nurse educator at Jackson Health System responsible for onboarding new clinical staff. She and her 80-year-old mother are COVID-19 survivors.

Fray is a licensed registered nurse and an advanced practice registered nurse (clinical nurse specialist) who felt the urge to organise an effort to educate the Jamaican/Caribbean public about COVID-19 and the vaccine, as well as address legitimate individual concerns about the pandemic.

“After seeing my mom suffer with COVID-19, especially because of her medical conditions, including asthma, hypertension and diabetes, among other things, and she almost died as a result of COVID-19, I felt the need to educate the community that this thing is real and deadly,” Fray told The Sunday Gleaner.

When the light bulb flashed in her head, she reached out to the Jamaican consulate, as well as other Jamaican clinicians and community leaders, and the idea became a reality.

“The entire team felt it was necessary to listen to, and educate our community because studies have shown that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy decreases when the community trusts the messengers. It was also our way of giving back to our Caribbean community,” she said.

The other Jamaica-born clinicians involved in the initiative are Carol Biggs, senior vice-president and chief nursing executive, Jackson Health System; Stephen Symes, associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases with the Miller School of Medicine; Jay Blake, registered clinical practice pharmacist, Jackson Health System; Horace Ellis, adult psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner; Laurel Taitt, school psychologist; and Cynthia Archibald, professor at the Florida Atlantic University.

The team has organised two events so far – ‘A COVID-19 Conversation with the Community’ and ‘Vaccine Hesitancy: Why, Who, What, When’.

Both events were streamed online.

STRAIN ON SYSTEM

COVID-19 infections are again spiking in Florida, and according Fray, the strain is being felt in hospitals in the Miami/Dade County, which is one of the more populated areas of the state.

Bed space is running out fast.

The website www.covid19. healthdata.org has projected that some 45,892 persons are expected to succumb to the virus by November 1 this year, based on the current rate of infections.

Fray said her group’s project is ongoing and more outreach is planned in the near future.

“This initiative will go on as long as the need persists, especially knowing that the stubborn barrier of scepticism continues to keep our people disproportionately represented in the incidence of COVID-19 infection,” she said.

Fears of death and other side effects related to taking the vaccine have rattled some Caribbean nationals but the medical professionals sought to calm nerves.

“First, we are respectful and empathetic about your concerns; we have to meet you where you are. We encourage you to talk with experts such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to answer your questions or guide you to the proper resources,” Fray shared.

“Don’t go by social media or word of mouth. Think about your family and loved ones. Would you want them to contract COVID-19 from you because you are not vaccinated? The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any perceived ill effects, and scientific data bear this out. Look at the number of people who have died from the disease versus those who have gotten sick from the vaccine. Where would you rather be? Think about this. We have all been vaccinated and we have had no ill effects from the vaccine.”

Specific data on the percentage of persons of Caribbean descent in Miami who have been affected by the virus was not immediately available, but Fray said there were signs that the Caribbean community was taking heed to the advice of the team.

“It gives us great satisfaction that we are able to use our position as clinicians to do whatever we can because we have dealt with COVID on the front line, and I speak on behalf of the team, without whom this could not be possible,” she said.

According to Jamaica’s health ministry, just over 300,000 Jamaicans (approximately five per cent of the population) have so far received at least the first dose of the vaccine, with an estimated 179,000 fully vaccinated from that lot. This puts Jamaica at the bottom of the ladder in the Caribbean region in terms of population percentage vaccinated.

Fray is encouraging Jamaicans to be more vigilant about their health.

“If a high number of people don’t get vaccinated, the disease and the restrictions will last even longer; the more we will have different strains of COVID-19 infection with deadly consequences; and we will not be able to return to a normal way of life. Viruses are always mutating or changing, so that’s why it’s so important to get fully vaccinated, not just halfway vaccinated,” she stressed.

editorial@gleanerjm.com