ST. LOUIS – Like many health care workers, Dr. Damian Findlay has both treated COVID-19 patients and battled it himself.
“It was beyond the sickest I have ever been and don’t wish it upon anyone,” said Dr. Findlay, who serves as division chief of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. “The pandemic has altered our way of living and has had severe psychological implications. Now, with vaccination, we have a real chance to emerge from the pandemic.”
His experience battling COVID-19 is just one reason many seek his advice about the virus and the newly released vaccines. As a graduate of Tuskegee University, Dr. Findlay worked as a research assistant and met survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and their family members.
“The study was one of the most heinous things that have ever taken place,” he said. “It was funded by the United States government to study the untreated natural history of syphilis in African American male subjects. Even though they were told they would be given free health care, burial benefits, all these other things – and at the time, there was a known treatment that was still withheld from them because they wanted to study the natural course of the disease.”
In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a presidential apology for the study, bringing additional funds for the development of the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care.
“We had a grassroots initiative where we sat down with different members of the Tuskegee community to have dialogue about their feelings for the health care system. They were extremely vocal about their hesitation to participate in any type of research because they felt betrayed by the scientific community. That study, along with many other unethical occurrences throughout history, has led many to mistrust our health care system.”
As someone who shares the same skin color as the participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Dr. Findlay says he understand their position. “People of all races and ethnicities are skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine. Though, with my scientific background, I’m a vaccine advocate and did choose to be vaccinated.”
He continued, “Over the last 200 years, some of the most brilliant scientists contributed to vaccine medicine. From the small pox era to the flu, ground breaking advancements in vaccine development technology continue daily. My decision was based on the literature full of evidence showing the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety.”
For those with trepidation, Dr. Findlay urges caution of conspiracy theories and opinions on social media platforms. He implores others to speak with their physician and look to evidence-based platforms – such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other state or local departments – to educate themselves.
“I see vaccination as a selfless act we can do for each other to prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Findlay said. “As Americans, we are an amalgamation of people of different races, ethnicities, religions, political ideologies and cultures. This is what makes America wonderful. Despite our differences, we all have a common enemy in COVID-19. I ask you to strongly consider vaccination because our most valuable capital is at stake -- our human capital. Not knowing our worth as a people could be the greatest price we ever pay.”
Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems for four consecutive years by IBM Watson Health, serves millions annually. Mercy is one of the nation’s most highly integrated, multi-state health care systems, including more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, convenient and urgent care locations, imaging centers and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 2,400 Mercy Clinic physicians and more than 40,000 co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.