Selwyn Vickers 4 LRI’m excited to share that the UAB initiative Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrated the first phase of its planned improvements in the Kingston and Titusville communities with a ribbon-cutting event in Kingston on June 16. Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity, and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state. The improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve partner communities’ infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, ADA-compliant street ramps, new landscaping in parks, colorful painted murals, new bus shelters, improved street lighting, and more.

One of the most gratifying aspects of Live HealthSmart Alabama is the support the initiative has received from individuals, local government, and corporations alike. For example, to encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama—in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston—worked to repave or build new sidewalks in Kingston. Kirkpatrick Concrete donated the concrete used to make these improvements. Other partners contributing to the Kingston projects include O’Neal Steel, Coca-Cola United, the City of Birmingham, Alabama Power, Steward Machine, Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAX, Goodwyn Mills Cawood, Blank Space, NAFCO, Birmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

One commonality Live HealthSmart Alabama found across underserved areas is these neighborhoods either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts. To address this, the initiative introduced its new Mobile Market at the ribbon-cuttings. Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT, or Double-Up Bucks. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with the Live HealthSmart Alabama demonstration areas in Kingston, Titusville, East Lake, and Bush Hills. You can read more about the ribbon-cutting event here.

This month we welcome our medical students back to campus for the beginning of a new academic year, the first since the campus was closed due to the pandemic. Our second-, third-, and fourth-years returned this week, and the new class of first-year students will take part in Orientation July 27-31.

I will be there to welcome the MS1s on the first day of Orientation, and throughout the week the students will hear from medical education leaders Craig Hoesley, M.D., senior associate dean for Medical Education; Kevin Leon, M.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education; Christina Grabowski, Ph.D., associate dean for Admissions and Enrollment Management; Caroline Harada, M.D., assistant dean for Community-Engaged Scholarship; and Carlton Young, M.D., assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusion, among others. Learning Community mentors and representatives, Student Senate officers, student organization leaders, and others will also speak to students during Orientation.

This year will be unique in that the school will host two White Coat Ceremonies, where we officially welcome our new MS1 class to medical school. Because the pandemic forced us to postpone last year's ceremony, we will celebrate the class that entered in 2020 at a White Coat Ceremony on August 1. We will welcome the class entering in 2021 at a White Coat Ceremony on August 15. Both ceremonies will take place at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center at 2 p.m., and both will be livestreamed.

Finally, I’d like to encourage you to continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated among your patients, families, friends, and neighbors. Unfortunately, Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the nation, with two-thirds of Alabamians remaining unvaccinated. The escalating spread of the Delta variant, which is between 50 and 90 percent more infectious than the other COVID-19 variants, is extremely worrying. Moreover, evidence suggests that an individual who becomes infected with the Delta variant is more likely to become severely ill or be hospitalized. More than 95% of people admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 infection are unvaccinated. UAB experts have compiled this one-page document to help people assess the short- and long-term risks of infection and the safety and efficacy of the vaccine – I encourage you to share it with anyone who may be hesitant to get vaccinated.

We are also launching a public Zoom panel series called “What’s New with COVID-19.” UAB infectious disease experts will discuss the latest COVID-19 news, including the Delta variant, vaccination efficacy and safety, and hospitalizations, and host a question-and-answer session with participants. The first panel takes place Monday, July 26, at 10:30 a.m. and features Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Michael Saag, M.D., director of the Center for AIDS Research. Register for the July 26 panel here.

We will not send a Dean’s Message Alumni Newsletter in August, but I look forward to sharing the latest news with you again in September.