Kamala Harris' Unexpected Impact On COVID Vaccinations

On Christmas Day of 2020, clinical nurse manager Patricia Cummings, RN, got a call that would quite literally change her life. The Guyana-born nurse, who works at United Medical Center in Washington, D.C., was asked if she'd be willing to give the COVID vaccine injection to Vice President Kamala Harris. This would be a shot heard around the world (and seen as well, per this Reuters tweet), and as Cummings later told Healthline, she was thrilled to be a key player in this historic event.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Harris' public vaccination was the location. While many high-ranking political figures receive medical treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, neither Joe Biden nor Harris took that route. Biden received his COVID vaccine at Christiana Hospital in Newark, in his home state of Delaware (via ABC-7), but Harris' choice was even more striking. United Medical Center was formerly known as Greater Southeast Community Hospital, and throughout its 55-year history it's been known for treating some of the District's poorest residents. Southeast D.C. is also the quadrant with the highest concentration of African-American residents (via George Washington University's Center for Washington Area Studies). Several months after her history-making moment, The List had the chance to catch up with Cummings, who, in addition to her nursing duties, is studying for her Master of Science in Nursing at Walden University. Cummings shared with us her thoughts on the significance of Harris' vaccine choice.

The vaccination location had more than symbolic significance

Cummings was extremely proud as well as "pleasantly surprised" that her workplace was chosen as the site for the VP's vaccination. As she told us, "Vice President Harris choosing to be vaccinated at a hospital that is located in an under-served, minority community in southeast Washington, D.C., was an excellent demonstration of servant leadership." She feels that Harris' choice of venue was in keeping with the values that she has embraced throughout her political career, values such as inclusion and equality.

In Cummings' nursing studies –- she is specifically pursuing a nurse-executive track –- she says that she has researched a number of leadership styles, as well as the way that leaders can influence the actions of others. What she's found out is that a leader who is able to make people feel empowered is more easily able to get them to buy into their vision, and she feels that Harris is using her role to enable people to make better choices about their health. "In my opinion," Cummings shared with us, "the Vice President's attempts at appealing to all Americans, specifically those of minority groups, to be vaccinated is a testament to her strong leadership qualities."

How Vice President Kamala Harris is serving as a role model

How effective was Kamala Harris' gesture in getting others to follow her example? According to Cummings, who is in a position to have first-hand knowledge, "This decision was effective in influencing the community to follow suit, as evidenced by the large number of inquiries received by the hospital's vaccination clinic in the days following her vaccination."

Cummings also notes that Harris is talking the talk as well as walking the walk, as she continues to advocate for vaccination on all her social media platforms. She has shared about her own experience in receiving the vaccine with positive messages like the one she tweeted in January on the occasion of her second dose of vaccine: "When it becomes available to you, don't wait — get vaccinated. It's safe, easy, and it saves lives." Cummings also appreciates the Vice President's efforts to keep us all in the loop, and praised her for "providing transparent information about how vaccinations are being handled by the administration."

More influencers of color need to step up and promote vaccine awareness

With Vice President Kamala Harris taking point on the vaccine awareness campaign, where does Cummings see things going from here? According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, minorities still lag behind the general population when it comes to vaccination rates. In the District of Columbia, the population is 46 percent African American, yet this group accounts for 49 percent of COVID cases and 69 percent of virus-related deaths. Unfortunately, only 37 percent of DC's COVID vaccinations have gone into the arms of African Americans. Still, Cummings said, "I believe that we are beginning to see a slight positive shift in vaccination hesitancy among minority groups."

What would help get these numbers up where they need to be, according to Cummings, is if more celebs, politicians, and other influential people of color step up and start encouraging people to get vaccinated. Cummings, though she is not herself a celebrity per se, has received a great deal of media attention since vaccinating the VP, and she says she tries to use her voice for good. "The Vice President has certainly inspired me to do my part," she said. "I have used the platform afforded to me since being chosen to perform her first inoculation to share information with people in my community." 

With role models like Kama Harris, and Patricia Cummings as well, there's hope that all of us, no matter our skin color or economic status, will soon be protected from the pandemic.