Dr. Cherae Farmer-Dixon, dean of the School of Dentistry at Meharry Medical College

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — The Links Inc. chapter here has hosted a virtual panel discussion on COVID-19 vaccines and the African American community.

Details on a well-known fact — African Americans suffer a disproportionately higher percentage of the infections from the unique coronavirus — were discussed, as well as answers to frequent questions such as who will receive vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. All, of that and more will be reported here and in the print edition of The Tennessee Tribune print edition starting Thursday, Nov. 12.

The Links-hosted discussion led-off with Dr. Cherae Farmer-Dixon, dean of the School of Dentistry at Meharry Medical College. Previously, she explained the pandemic’s effect on the school.

“When the pandemic started, dental services were suspended because of aerosols created by many dental procedures,” Farmer-Dixon said. Meharry ordered extra oral scavengers. They collect liquids, reduce bacteria, and uses ultraviolet light to kill the infection.

Other steps taken by Meharry include teaching-doctors testing vaccines to immunize Americans.

The Links panel may be seen as a continuation of the university’s mission to educate the public. The virtual panel discussion was live on Facebook at NashvilleTNChapterofLinksIncorporated. The panel also included Dr. Consuelo Hopkins Wilkins, vice president for health equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Stephanie Bailey, senior associate for public health practice at Meharry, a former director of Nashville’s health board, was unable to participate as planned.

One impact of COVID-19 on African Americans is how Meharry’s School of Dentistry continued its on the job training and public service.

“Dentistry is one of those professions for which you must have hands-on training,” Farmer-Dixon said. “We have modified our training to support social distancing and limited the number of students we have in our laboratories at any one time.

“We’ve also had to decrease the number of patients we see at any one time,” the dean said. That allows social distancing. Schedules are spread out to allow time for sanitizing between patients. Previously, there were 20 students per session. Now there are no more than 10 in any one clinic at a time, and taller plexiglass barriers were placed between dentist chairs.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) — gown, mask and gloves — have always been part of dental services. Gloves were improved decades ago because of HIV/AIDS. Now, masks are better.

Dental school enrollment wasn’t affected. “I think the difference is because we are a professional school versus an undergraduate level institution,” Farmer-Dixon said.

Meharry had no plan to abandon the live-patient experience for students. Dental school students provide services to those in need. “Not all of our services are free,” Farmer-Dixon said. “Our fees are significantly lower than those at a commercial clinic.” The pandemic increased patient need, she said. People lost jobs that provided dental insurance. But income reductions can change personal care decisions. When unemployment goes up, dentist appointments go down. As the pandemic continues, people aren’t going out as much as they did last year.

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...