ICYMI: Black Emergency Doctor at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Hospital Pens New York Daily News Op-Ed Urging Her Community to Get Vaccinated

December 23, 2020


Teresa Smith Among First New York Healthcare Workers to Receive Vaccine

Smith: "I've seen what COVID-19 does firsthand for months now, and again, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing that this vaccine can give me that’s worse than dying from COVID."

Brooklyn, NY – In today’s New York Daily News, Dr. Teresa Smith, a Black emergency department doctor at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Hospital, urges the Black and Brown community to get vaccinated. Dr. Smith describes the reasoning behind her decision and her experience after getting vaccinated, while also addressing the politicization of medicine and her community’s distrust of the medical system—with a clear message: get the vaccine.

Read Dr. Smith’s op-ed here.

Take the vaccine like I did: A Black doctor urges her community to protect itself from COVID

Last week, I was among the first health-care workers in New York to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. My decision to vaccinate was simple: There is nothing that this vaccine can give me that’s worse than dying of COVID.

But I understand the choice is more complex for some. As an emergency department doctor at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University Hospital of Brooklyn, I am trying to do my part to keep our patients safe. I am also a Black woman, whose friends and family are not convinced that this vaccine is safe, in a country that doesn’t have a great history when it comes to ethical medical care for my community.

The first thing people ask me is how I felt after getting the shot. Within five hours, I felt like I was about to come down with a cold. My body felt tired, and a little achy, but not nearly as intense as the flu. The site of the shot, my arm, was a little sore — but less than even after my annual flu shot. I took Tylenol before and after. I went to bed early. I woke up feeling fine.

At the end of day two, I felt slow and not 100%, but still did a full day’s work. I took Tylenol, stayed hydrated and got some sleep. By day three, I felt completely normal. Most of my colleagues did not get any symptoms at all.

It’s important that people hear about my personal experience with the vaccine. It’s not just because I am a doctor, but it’s also because I understand why many in my community distrust the medical system that I am now a part of.

It’s a system that allowed state-sanctioned experimentation on Black and Brown individuals well into the 1970s, and in which glaring disparities still persist. Under an administration dead-set on playing politics with millions of lives, this pandemic brought those disparities into stark relief as it continues to kill far more Black and Brown Americans than white Americans.

But a vaccine is not political. It is the product of science, not of partisanship.

The vaccine contains genetic code that copies one piece of the virus (its “spike”) to trick the body into raising its guard. Your immune system reacts to the foreign spike by making antibodies that will kill anything that has those spikes, every time they see it. It’s like saying: If I see it on my block, I’m going to kick COVID’s ass every time.

Some say they have a healthy immune system, eat well, take good care of themselves and therefore don’t need to get vaccinated. While this is good in theory, we know it simply isn’t enough. You need immunity specific to the virus. You need enough antibodies to build up an army to fight back and defeat COVID any time your body encounters it. This is why you need a second shot — to build up as many antibodies as possible — so if COVID shows up on your street in a few months, your immune system will say “Not today!” and knock it out of your system. You won’t even realize you had it.

Others worry the vaccine was rushed, distributed to us before it was finished as a political ploy. But the groundbreaking research that created this mRNA vaccine is based on science used in research for more than 20 years now. And while traditionally vaccinations are tested in one large trial at a time, there are currently multiple simultaneous large studies currently underway — so we are not relying solely on the first published Pfizer study.

I made my decision to get vaccinated after speaking with my doctor. I have lupus, polymyositis and dermatomyositis — autoimmune diseases that make me a prime target for COVID.

My immune system is like that friend who always does too much, who when called to the fight, will fight everybody, even the people on your side. My doctor and I decided that since my immune system is always looking to fight everything in sight, I may flare, or come down with symptoms of my illnesses. But a possible flare of my autoimmune illnesses is worth the benefits of protection against this dangerous virus.

I’ve seen what COVID-19 does firsthand for months now, and again, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there is nothing that this vaccine can give me that’s worse than dying from COVID. We need the protection this vaccine offers. You need the protection this vaccine offers.

Trust me when I say, you want to take the vaccine.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY's 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.

Share this:


Holly Liapis
Email the Office of Communications