Dr. Barbara Ferrer is a now-familiar face in Southern California, helping guide the region’s pandemic response as L.A. County’s Department of Public Health Director. While the decades of experience and reams of data at her command give her great insight and authority, Ferrer began this conversation humbly, by acknowledging the contributions of her sizable team - a show of collaboration and open-mindedness that typifies her style, and illustrates the interdependent nature of navigating a global pandemic.
As Southern California’s version of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Ferrer joined Your Evening anchor Amrit Singh just after Fauci’s Congressional testimony, during which the doctor said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine will be available by early 2021, but that it wouldn’t be available to all Americans immediately. Rather, Fauci said, it will probably be “phased in.”
When asked what Fauci’s “phased in” vaccine roll-out plan could look like in L.A., Dr. Ferrer evoked her years of working toward equitable public health outcomes, with particular concern for marginalized populations.
“The first thing we have to acknowledge is that we have uneven history in this country around introducing new medications and vaccines, particularly among some of our communities that experience the worst health outcomes,” Ferrer said. “Tuskegee doesn’t disappear because we want to pretend it didn’t happen,” she added, referring to the infamous U.S. Public Health experiments in syphilis conducted upon unsuspecting Black men between 1932 and 1972.
“The way to get in front of that is acknowledge that history existed, and start talking with communities that have more concerns about introducing new medications,” she added. “The time is now to start figuring out how are we going to get those people who need to get vaccinated the most -- the highest risk, those who work in the highest risk settings.”
Ferrer also offered a moment of optimism, despite this present surge in hospitalization and case-positivity rates.
“There is a path forward for L.A. County,” she said. “We know what people need to do to protect themselves and others. You need to wear your face covering, keep your distance, and wash your hands often -- and if you’re positive, you need to isolate yourself and answer some questions when the contact tracer calls so you’re able to stay home for 10 days and that we know who your close contacts were so they too can stay home.”
“Those strategies will work.”