After losing husband, Louisiana nurse vaccinates underserved

After losing husband, Louisiana nurse vaccinates underserved


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Carla Brown often prays as she administers the COVID vaccine, asking God to help her find more people who want the shot so she doesn’t waste her precious supply.

“I say, ‘Father, give me another arm,’” the hospice nurse said. “And I have not wasted one dose.”

Brown, who travels through Scotlandville and surrounding areas in her red Toyota Scion to get the life-saving vaccine to the people who need it most, works full-time at Canon Hospice, a palliative care agency in the city, while continuing to inoculate people in her free time.


Her story began a year ago, at the age of 62, when she unknowingly brought the coronavirus home to her family.

Brown, who worked as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital at the time, watched in horror as her husband, father and brother fell ill with the virus in the early months of the pandemic. All three required hospitalization.

Her father and brother made it home.

Her husband of 21 years — who years earlier survived a gunshot wound to the head and two cancer diagnoses — did not.

David Brown died in July 2020 after an extensive hospital stay. His wife was unable to see him in his final moments because of COVID restrictions.

“A lot of us front-liners brought it home,” she recounted. “After my husband died, and me knowing I was the cause of his death, I felt I had to do something and not let his death be in vain.”

A PERSONAL MISSION

What began as a personal mission to educate people about the dangers of the virus has transformed into an all-out effort to vaccinate as many people as she can — all to honor her husband’s memory.

The summer after his death, armed with her grief and a new passion to protect others in her community, Brown began to knock on doors, starting with her next-door neighbors. Then, to families a few streets over from her house. She told them about her experience with the virus and how to protect themselves as cases began to soar.

“It was full blown after May,” she said. “It was wildfire.”

As a Black woman in the medical field, Brown saw how the coronavirus disproportionately affected her community. She knew that many of her neighbors considered the virus a hoax, or didn’t trust the medical establishment, and so stayed home with locked doors after they became infected.

“There was a lot of fear,” she said. “That’s why education to me was so important.”

In the meantime, determined to help other families find closure when facing the death of a loved one, Brown quit her job at the psychiatric hospital and joined the team at Canon Hospice.

When the vaccine became available, Brown learned from the elderly people she was caring for that they had problems registering for the injection, lacked basic information from inadequate internet access, required transportation or were simply afraid of getting the vaccine.

She also saw that the vaccination numbers in rural and impoverished areas were low.

“I said, ‘My god, I have to do something,’” she recalled. “Just because it’s a poor community doesn’t mean these people don’t want to live. Give them a fighting chance.”

Brown again returned to her door-to-door beat, helping elderly people register for the vaccine and then driving them to their appointments — though she longed to be able to administer the vaccine herself.

SHOT CALLER

Brown’s efforts soon garnered national media attention, alerting local leaders to her work.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome invited Brown to join her Vaccine Equity Taskforce. And when Brown applied to become a vaccine vendor to administer the shots herself, Broome contacted the Louisiana Department of Health to expedite her application.

Together with Bordelon’s Super-Save Pharmacy on Plank Road that has served the north Baton Rouge community for decades, Brown helped vaccinate almost 1,000 people since March. She organized mass vaccination events, particularly serving Scotlandville and surrounding areas.

While other members of the “Covid Crusader” team she formed help at the pharmacy or with vaccination events, Brown and another employee at Canon Hospice, Missy Hasting, continue to drive around finding those who can’t otherwise make it to these events, such as the elderly, people without transportation and the bed-bound.

Both women have stories about the virus in their own lives and how they fared with the vaccine. Those personal accounts have proved critical in convincing skeptics to get the jab.

“In the Black community there’s kind of a fear of medicine and science, so we felt like it was very important for people to see us as medical professionals who look like them,” Hasting explained. “We can both give personal testimony about what we went through in dealing with the vaccine — it’s nothing compared to the actual virus.”

While they have made considerable progress, Brown said two events have forced her to redouble her efforts: the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause, which frightened more people about getting the shot, and the state lifting its mask mandate, which Brown said has led some people to act as though the pandemic is over and they are “invincible.”

“You have too many big holidays coming up and we do not need a superspreader again,” Brown said. “We should not let down our guard. We still should keep those safety features in place. It’s not out of that superspreader zone just yet.”



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