Selwyn Vickers 4 LRAs you are no doubt aware, Alabama continues to lag the nation in COVID-19 vaccination rates. As of Sept. 13, we remain among the three or four states with the lowest vaccination rates, with only 39% of the state’s population fully vaccinated. This is happening in the context of a truly alarming surge in infections and hospitalizations in Alabama, which is straining our health care system and our health care workers enormously. Currently, 62 out of every 100,000 people in Alabama are being hospitalized for COVID, whereas states like Massachusetts and Vermont have much higher vaccination rates and far fewer hospitalizations—Vermont, for example, has a 68% vaccination rate and only 5 people per 100,000 are being hospitalized fir COVID.

Because of this, earlier this month I shared my thoughts with our school on the role of individual decision-making and personal choices as we confront the current fourth wave of infection. I invite you to read the message, where I discuss what responsibility, freedom, and loving one’s neighbor look like in the midst of a public health crisis like the one we are experiencing here in Alabama.

In response to the COVID surge, on Aug. 17, the UAB Health System announced that employees and people working in its hospitals and clinics must be vaccinated against COVID-19. I fully support this decision as necessary to keep our patients safe and want to highlight these remarks by UAB Health System Vice President of Clinical Support Services Sarah Nafziger, M.D.: “Leading medical organizations, including the American Hospital Association, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Association of American Medical Colleges, have recommended required COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers. Both government and professional organizations emphasize that by being vaccinated, health care workers improve patient safety by decreasing the risk of exposure to COVID-19, which is threatening our ability to provide the services necessary to care for and protect the people of Alabama.”

Every hospital in Alabama is grappling with understaffing, over-work, and immense physical, emotional, and psychological strain—suffering that is not isolated just to the emergency departments and COVID wards, but bleeds over into all areas of the hospital. Physicians remain important voices in convincing people to get vaccinated, and I hope you will continue to use yours with your patients, loved ones, and friends. Alabama can and must do better, for ourselves, for those we love, and for the health care system that serves us all.

I hope you were able to join our second What’s New with COVID-19 Physician Panel on Sept. 13, featuring Turner Overton, M.D., and Sonya Heath, M.D., of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. This popular Zoom panel series features UAB infectious disease experts discussing the latest COVID-19 news and answering participant questions, and includes installments directed at physicians and health care providers. In our first Physician Panel last month, Mike Saag, M.D., and Paul Goepfert, M.D., offered advice for physicians on what to say to patients who might be vaccine hesitant, along with a variety of other topics. Learn more about the series, view past installments, and register for upcoming events here.

I also invite you to view our latest Mini Medical School. These events are designed to engage our community and expand its health care knowledge by spotlighting UAB’s world-renowned researchers and physicians. The fourth session, which took place Aug. 31, features David Geldmacher, M.D., FACP, professor in the Department of Neurology and the division director of Memory Disorders, who shared his expertise and insights on Alzheimer’s disease and emerging treatments. Suzanne Lapi, Ph.D., director of UAB’s Cyclotron Facility, and Jonathan McConathy, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Advanced Imaging Facility, discussed molecular imaging in Alzheimer’s disease. Erik Roberson, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurology and the director of the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics, also discussed Alzheimer’s history, research, treatment. If you have questions or would like more information about these sessions, please email Katie Vickery or visit go.uab.edu/mini-medical-school.

I’m also excited to share with you that Lindsay Sutton, Ph.D., MSPH, will be our next School of Medicine Grand Rounds speaker on Oct. 8 at noon. These school-wide Grand Rounds are designed to be broad in nature and appeal to anyone interested in health, health care, disparities, medicine, culture, and more. A psychologist by training, Dr. Sutton is a behavioral designer and performance strategist who works with large companies to develop new problem-solving methods. She will speak about the Myth of Work-Life Balance. Register for the event here, and watch videos of past talks on the Grand Rounds website.

I am enormously proud of the physicians, scientists, faculty, staff, students, and trainees who make UAB Medicine run, even under the most challenging circumstances. The online events detailed here not only showcase their incredible work but also help keep us connected to the community and to our alumni while we can’t gather together in person. Until that time, I hope you will join us for future events. As always, stay well.