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Harford County

University of Maryland Medical System doctors to answer COVID-19 vaccine questions during MLK Day virtual webinar

Experts from the University of Maryland Medical System, including Dr. Fermin Barrueto Jr. from Upper Chesapeake Health, will host a virtual conversation on MLK Day to discuss COVID-19 vaccine issues, concerns and questions.

“Finding Hope on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day – A Town Hall on Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine” is scheduled on Zoom for 11 a.m. to noon Monday.


“Many of Dr. King’s themes about the right to basic healthcare, inclusivity of all people and hope are particularly poignant and important as we continue to battle COVID-19,” Mohan Suntha, the president and CEO of UMMS, said in a prepared statement. “The vaccines provide hope for saving lives and bringing an end to this pandemic.”

Panelists will discuss the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, vaccine hesitancy, safety and efficacy, potential side effects, and the science behind messenger RNA vaccines, including how they promote a response in individuals.


“COVID is real and it is devastating,” Suntha, who will emcee the event, said. “This discussion will offer hope and clarity about the path forward to ending COVID-19.”

The conversation will also help address questions and concerns about the vaccine among communities of color, he said.

To that end, panelists will also discuss COVID-19 issues that adversely impact minority populations, such as Black and Latinx people being more likely to get COVID-19, health co-morbidities linked to coronavirus complications that can affect Black people at a higher rate, and systemic health and social inequities that put minorities at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and death.

“There are some populations that have deep-seated concerns about equity in healthcare and historically-based fears about experimentation, and consequently are hesitant to get the vaccine,” said Michelle Gourdine, UMMS’ Interim Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President for Population Health and Primary Care.

Gourdine, a Black physician and one of the Town Hall panelists, added that “factual information about vaccines can dispel myths and concerns. Information is power.”

Dr. Fermin Barrueto is the senior vice president and chief medical officer at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Harford County
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“As a physician, it is my duty to not only protect myself but also my family, my work family and the community I serve,” said Barrueto, the senior vice president and chief medical officer at UM Upper Chesapeake Health. “More importantly, as a Latino, it is my duty to implore minority populations to receive the COVID vaccine based on their high risk of contracting the disease.”

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a participant in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Moderna vaccine clinical trial, will moderate the discussion.

“Growing up, I was very aware of the prejudice shown by the medical and scientific community toward Black people,” he said. “We must recognize the need to put in the work to rebuild trust, particularly at a time when we’re seeing people of color dying of COVID-19 at such high rates.”


Hrabowski said it was noteworthy that the vaccine was produced under the leadership of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett at the National Institutes of Health. Corbett is a Black woman and a graduate of UMBC.

“She and her colleagues understand the importance of beginning to rebuild trust through a vaccine that can help all of society,” Hrabowski said.

Other UMMS physician expert participants in the Town Hall include: Dr. David Marcozzi, professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, UMMS COVID-19 Incident Commander and Senior COVID-19 Medical Advisor to Gov. Larry Hogan; Dr. Stacy Garrett-Ray, Vice President and Medical Director, UMMS Population Health Services Organization; and Dr. Joseph L. Wright, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, UM Capital Region Health in Prince George’s County.

The webinar is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is requested at The online town hall will also be broadcast live on the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Facebook page.