One Year Later: Peace of Mind
Before 9am, Dunnie Davis is already in line for his vaccine against COVID-19. Dunnie is a 72-year-old resident of Gateway at Willowbrook, an independent living home across the street from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital. Nurses and staff from the hospital have shown up this morning to vaccinate residents who are 65 years and older—those who have lived with the most risk through this last year of the pandemic.
Staff members pull vials of the Pfizer vaccine from coolers and nurses prepare their stations with alcohol pads and band-aids. Within minutes, residents are queueing up and sitting at stations, rolling up their sleeves. Dunnie, his arms already bared in a black muscle tank, can barely contain his excitement.
Ten years ago, Dunnie suffered a brain aneurysm. Since then, he’s made taking care of his health a top priority. That includes protecting himself against the virus. As the patriarch of the family, he has five daughters, 20 grandkids, and six great-grandkids who form a tight-knit family and who look to him for guidance.
“There’s a stigma going around that older Black people, because of history, really kind of frown on new medicines and vaccines,” he says. “But I’ve got 30 people waiting for me to call and tell them what happened. They’re kind of waiting because they’re scared, but I’m setting the example. I can say to them, ‘Hey I did it, I’m feeling fine!’”
Another resident in line is Janice Dotie, who’s in her mid-60’s. As soon as vaccines opened for those in her age range, she began calling local pharmacies, trying to secure an appointment spot. She had no luck. And she’d been intimidated by reports of long lines even for those who had appointments. “I can’t stand for too long, so I don’t want to get in those lines. Thank God you guys came here,” she says.
In the building’s common recreation room, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic, voices ring out for the first time in almost a year. The newly vaccinated sit for fifteen minutes, holding timers that staff hand them. The final step is to make their appointments for the second shot, which will give them full immunity, and most importantly, peace of mind.
You guys are giving hope. [Other people] see doctors and nurses, I see angels.Dunnie DavisGateway at Willowbrook resident
That kind of peace of mind has been rare since the pandemic began one year ago. The first COVID-positive patient arrived at the hospital on March 15, 2020. Hospital leadership had been monitoring the outbreak seriously since early January, but even so, certain equipment and supplies remained in short supply. Around this time, MLK Community Health Foundation received one of its first gifts—a $10,000 check from a man named Tom Safran.
His company develops and manages low income and age restricted housing across Los Angeles County, including the same property across the street from the hospital where vaccines are being administered today—Gateway at Willowbrook.
“I gave first to my local hospital in Santa Monica. But I was concerned about all the residents of my buildings. I started wondering where I could donate that might really need help. We had recently finished a building next door to MLKCH, so I reached out,” said Tom.
His gift has come full circle. One year later, after three successive surges in case numbers, vaccination events like those at Gateway at Willowbrook have been a source of hope for many in South LA, one of the hardest hit areas in the nation. MLKCH staff will continue administering vaccines through mobile clinics, targeting pockets where positivity rates for COVID are highest in South LA and closing the vaccine disparity between this community and wealthier parts of Los Angeles.
Dunnie’s fifteen minutes are up and he’s experienced no side effects, so he gets the go-ahead from MLKCH nurses. Thinking about what receiving the vaccine means for him and his family, he says, “I have to stick around for my great-grandchildren. They’re little, they don’t really know me yet. This [vaccine] is going to keep me around a little longer so I can watch them grow up.”