The importance of the COVID-19 vaccines
Danielle Parks, population health specialist at Independence Blue Cross (Independence), received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. In the video and story below, Parks shared her experience and passion for community health with us.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to get the vaccine. It is safe, and it’s going to protect us. When we talk about getting to herd immunity, we have to get out and do this” said Parks.
The day after receiving her second dose, Parks experienced one of the most common side effects: feeling tired. “My body was making those antibodies!” she jokes proudly.
Getting as many people as possible vaccinated is an essential step in beating COVID-19 and returning to a semblance of “normal” in our everyday lives. More importantly, it’s about saving lives. With over half a million lives lost in the U.S. because of the pandemic, the vaccines are a ray of hope after a devastating year.
“I’ve lost fourteen people since March,” Parks shared. “This is important.”
Parks was vaccinated thanks to the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium (BDCC). The organization, run by Dr. Ala Stanford, is committed to reducing the impact of COVID-19. BDCC’s mission focuses on communities of color by working to eliminate common barriers to testing and vaccines. The disproportionate impact of the virus on the Black community makes it a critical mission. In Philadelphia, African Americans make up 42.5 percent of COVID-19 cases; 54.6 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations; and 47.9 percent of COVID-19 deaths. Independence and the Independence Blue Cross Foundation were among the earliest funders of the BDCC and have collectively donated $250,000 to the organization.
A Community Health Champion
Danielle Parks is a force in her community. As a population health specialist at Independence Blue Cross, she works closely with health care providers in Philadelphia — including health systems and independent practices — to improve member and patient health outcomes. That involves developing strategies to get people preventive screenings like colonoscopies or manage chronic conditions like diabetes.
As the physical and mental health chair of the Chester Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Danielle strives to have a positive impact on health in Delaware County. She spearheads programs around domestic violence, HIV, breast cancer, mental, and physical health. Parks is also a member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, an organization that advocates on behalf of black women and girls.
Ultimately, Parks’ goal is nothing less than creating a paradigm shift for people when it comes to their health care. Instead of going to the doctor when they’re sick or in a crisis, she encourages people to engage with the health care system and their community for proactive wellness. She’s focused on this outside of work, too.
Meeting people where they’re at
In her quest for healthier communities, Parks discovered that meeting people where they’re at is important. That means understanding how their personal experiences have impacted their perception of health care, finding a middle ground, and establishing trust.
“I joke with my students at La Salle University about being obsessive over my oral health — always brushing and flossing my teeth,” Parks said. “It’s not because I want a nice smile. It’s because as a kid, I was terrified of the dentist! I didn’t go for routine cleanings or checkups — only when there was an issue. That made me associate pain with going to the dentist. A lot of people feel this way about going to the doctor.”
Parks finds that church is a good place to reach people, because “in the church, everything’s connected.” She’s worked with religious organizations across Philadelphia to overcome taboos and talk about real issues affecting the community, like HIV. Even when it comes to gathering in the church basement for meals, Parks advocates for diabetic and heart healthy food choices.
When reflecting on her passion and purpose, Parks credits a legacy of the women who came before her: “I was raised to lift people up,” she said. Her mom was a drug and alcohol counselor, and her grandmother was heavily involved in the church.
“If my mother was here, she’d say I was a health educator since I was eight years old, when I told her to quit smoking before she makes me an orphan,” Parks remembers of her late mom with a smile.