Following President Joe Biden’s call-to-action on Tuesday, encouraging Americans to get vaccinated as we head into the holiday season, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a historic gathering of ethnic physicians and medical associations to share information about the updated COVID-19 vaccines and the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to health equity and diversity in its pandemic response.
The special briefing featured top Administration officials, including Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Dr. José R. Romero, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Felicia Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH), and Dr. Ala Stanford, Regional Director of HHS Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA)—Region 3, who provided culturally-relevant information and resources on the updated vaccines. Marvin Figueroa, Director of the HHS Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA), provided welcoming remarks and Hannah Kim, Strategic Advisor at the HHS Office of Public Affairs (ASPA) moderated the event.
It was noted during the conversation that approximately 25 percent of the physicians practicing and/or training in the United States went to medical school outside of this country, and foreign-born physicians played a crucial role in ensuring the health of our communities.
Speakers recognized the role of doctors as trusted messengers to boost vaccine confidence, particularly in ethnic communities:
“Equity really has been the center of our Administration’s pandemic response. Make no mistake about it: the impact of this pandemic has been disproportionate. There have been communities who have been the hardest hit and faced the highest risk throughout the pandemic. But we know there is a path to making sure equity is centered in the vaccination effort. And it starts with respecting and acknowledging the people from the community like you really are going to be the key to our success,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
“It is imperative that we recognize the unique health disparities faced by people in minority populations and highlight the progress and importance of protecting those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Together with important partners like you, we can help raise awareness, increase vaccinations, protect loved ones, and reduce the impact of COVID-19 in society,” said Dr. José R. Romero, Director of National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“As the winter months approach, we need physicians serving racial and ethnic minority, American Indian and Alaska Native, and other vulnerable populations also to take care of themselves. You are the highly trusted messengers that lead others to accurate information on the importance of vaccination and other tools to combat COVID-19. Thank you for continuing to stand in the gap within our communities,” said Dr. Felicia Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH).
There were presentations by Dr. Roshan Shah, on behalf of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), and Dr. Ilan Shapiro, a respected doctor who works closely with HHS’s COVID-19 Public Education Campaign, to provide concrete examples on what medical groups and individual doctors can do to provide targeted outreach to ethnic communities and increase the number of vaccinations.
The event also included special guests from the White House Initiatives to express their support and appreciation for ethnic physicians and medical groups: Krystal Ka’ai, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders; Alexis Holmes, Executive Director, White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans; and Melody Gonzales, Executive Director, White House Initiative Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence & Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.
Among almost 175 participants, representatives of the following medical associations were recognized for their tireless work as unsung heroes throughout the pandemic:
- Dr. Garfield Clunie, President, National Medical Association
- Dr. Lukejohn Day, President, Association of American Indian Physicians (AAIP)
- Dr. Winston Wong, Chair, National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians
- Dr. Elena Rios, President & CEO, National Hispanic Medical Association
- Dr. Ravi Kolli, President, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI)
- Dr. Raed Naser, Secretary on National Executive Committee, National Arab American Medical Association (NAAMA)
- Dr. Bindu Singhal, San Diego Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (SAPI) Board of Trustee, Past President
- David Lee Hawks, Executive Director, Minority Physicians Alliance
- Dr. Hosai Todd Hesham, Afghan Medical Professionals Association of America (AMPAA)
- Dr. Jennifer I. Lee, President-elect, Korean American Medical Association (KAMA)
- Dr. Vanessa Chan, Chair of the Federation of Chinese American and Chinese Canadian Medical Societies (FCMS)
- Dr. Mara Fiorentino, President, Argentine-American Medical Society (AAMS)
- Tracy Wallowicz, Vice President, External Relations & Chief of Staff at Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates
This event was part of the HHS COVID-19 Public Education Campaign’s Vaccination Weeks of Action to encourage Americans to get vaccinated and the Administration’s proactive efforts to reach underserved communities where they are, to ensure health equity.
To learn more about the COVID-19 Public Education Campaign and access various resources, visit WECANDOTHIS.HHS.GOV.