WASHINGTON (ABC7) — On Wednesday, ABC7 spoke to the United Medical Center nurse who administered the COVID-19 vaccine to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Harris got the Moderna vaccine, and received the first of two shots on Tuesday morning.
"I, of course, was very nervous, but I felt so honored that I was chosen to administer her vaccine," said Patricia Cummings, a Clinical Nurse Manager at United Medical Center who was chosen to administer the vaccine to the Vice President-elect.
UMC is the only public hospital in the District. It serves predominantly Black neighborhoods in Southeast Washington, where Ward 8 has seen more deaths due to COVID-19 than anywhere else in the city.
"Wards 7 and 8 have been the hardest hit communities in DC, and to have the Vice President-elect come to our community, it means everything," said Cummings.
Cummings views it as much more than a photo op. Instead, she says it's an opportunity to build trust in the vaccine. In the neighborhoods that surround United Medical Center, people remain hesitant about getting the shot. And that's true among hospital staff as well.
Just over 50 percent of Cummings's coworkers have agreed to take the vaccine.
"I believe the distrust is primarily based on historically how vaccines have been created," she said. "But personally, I have done my research. And I use every opportunity to encourage my staff to educate the patients we come into contact with, sharing this information and encouraging them to trust the science."
Since the hospital began administering the vaccine on December 16, Cummings says they've vaccinated close to 600 people.
She personally received her first dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine a few weeks ago, and will get her second dose within the next week.
"As a result of me having my vaccination done, I was able to convince some of my own staff members, team members to participate," said Cummings. "So I think leadership on any level has a great role to play with influencing others, and what Vice President-elect Kamala Harris did yesterday was exemplary in her leadership role. I believe it is a great act of service, and that it will encourage a lot of our community members to be vaccinated."
Immediately after rolling up her sleeve on Tuesday, Harris thanked Cummings and said "I barely felt it". She also spoke about the importance of getting vaccinated, and explained why she chose to get her shot at United Medical Center.
"I'm in Anacostia today, because first of all we have phenomenal healthcare providers like Nurse Patricia. And we have hospitals and medical centers and clinics like this all over the country, who are staffed by people who understand the community, who often come from the community, and who administer all year round, trusted healthcare," said Harris. "So I want to remind people that right in your community is where you can take the vaccine, where you will receive the vaccine, by folks you may know. Folks who are working in the same hospital where your children were born."
Harris also acknowledged the work UMC does to serve their patients in Southeast Washington.
"I want to thank United Medical Center for the work you do in Southeast DC, serving a community that is often overlooked. And so it is good to be here," said Harris. "I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine, it is relatively painless, it happens really quickly, it is safe. Today I had the Moderna vaccine, my husband is going to have it today as well. I look forward to getting the second vaccine, and literally this is about saving lives. It's literally about saving lives. I trust the scientists. And it's the scientists who created and approved this vaccine. So I encourage everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated."
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By Wednesday, Cummings told ABC7 that Harris's message was already making a difference in Southeast Washington.
"As a result of her act yesterday, we have had several calls, from not just healthcare professionals but from the public at large, showing interest to be vaccinated here at United Medical Center," said Cummings. "So it has certainly helped."
The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the general public, but Cummings said it's important to start building trust in the shot as soon as possible, so that people are ready when it's their turn.
"If you have the opportunity to be vaccinated, go out and get the vaccine," she said. "Let's do our part in trying to end this thing."