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‘The light at the end of the tunnel’

Local doctors encourage COVID-19 vaccinations at Zinn Park event

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Dr Free at Park

Dr. Almena Free, RMC chief of staff, speaks Saturday afternoon in Zinn Park at an information session for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Benjamin Bailey has seen the same thing happen over and over: Someone will have tried to get the COVID-19 vaccine, failed and then caught the virus.

Bailey, one of several local doctors to speak Saturday afternoon about the vaccine at Zinn Park, said it happened recently to a nurse he knew and to his father, who had been released from the hospital earlier that day.

That’s why, Bailey said, it’s important for everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they possibly can.

“Don’t be that story,” Bailey said. “If you get the opportunity to get the vaccine, get it in your arm … Don’t walk, run.”

About 30 people sat around the park’s Martin Luther King Jr. pavilion to hear the doctors give information about the vaccine and answer questions at an event hosted by the city of Anniston and Regional Medical Center. Most of the attendees were from the Black community.

Dr. Raul Magadia, RMC’s infectious disease specialist, said cases have been going down, due to the lack of major holidays in recent weeks, people following health guidelines and the vaccine itself.

“Now we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Dr. Almena Free, RMC chief of staff, said she understands the apprehension Black people may feel towards getting the vaccine, as Black people have historically been treated as “guinea pigs,” such as during the Tuskegee experiments.

However, she said, not getting the vaccine would be a disservice to the community. During her experience this past year in RMC’s COVID-19 units, she said, frontline workers frequently found themselves overwhelmed and running out of oxygen, fluids and medicine.

“Many of the people who have passed away look like you and me,” she said.

Magadia said the first person to be vaccinated against the virus was a Black nurse, Sandra Lindsay. Another Black woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, was the lead investigator for the Moderna vaccine, he said.

Either way, Bailey said, everyone will be exposed to the virus at one point, whether they catch it or get the vaccine.

“There is no way you can hide from this,” he said.

The vaccine may come with side effects, Magadia said, but those usually last between 12 and 24 hours. Dr. Angela Martin, a local pediatrician, said her first dose of the vaccine hurt like “I don’t know what,” but she drank plenty of fluid, took a gummy Airborne vitamin each day and ate a light meal before her second dose, and it went smoothly. 

Free said doctors are working to find ways to bring vaccine sites out into the community, making those vaccines more accessible. Hodges said after the event the city and doctors were still in the planning stages for that distribution.

Contact Staff Writer Mia Kortright at 256-235-3563 or