From Vaccine Skeptic to Believer

Marlon Ellis, area maintenance manager for The Kendeda Building For Innovative Sustainable Design, maintains one of the most interesting buildings on Georgia Tech’s campus. The Kendeda Building features regenerative heating and cooling systems, compostable toilets, and a rooftop garden — all of which demand a thorough understanding of very complex operating requirements. Ellis says that research and continuing education have become part of the daily routine that allows him to successfully execute his job responsibilities. It’s this same quest for knowledge that has helped Ellis understand the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine.

In late January, Ellis received notification from Georgia Tech that he was eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. Hesitant and skeptical at first, he ignored the email. He was surprised at how quickly the vaccine was available on campus, and his experience with Covid-19 was limited to a co-worker who tested positive and experienced only minor symptoms. He admits that as a Black man, born and raised in Alabama, he felt a deep mistrust of the government and its public health initiatives. This mistrust stemmed from his knowledge of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment research study and the subsequent abuse of Black men over a 40-year period. Ellis also felt the chaotic and divided political climate had clouded information surrounding the science behind the vaccine.

Ellis knew he should do his research and find out more. He needed to hear from those he trusted so he did what he does every day at Georgia Tech — he educated himself. Fortunately, his church, the Providence Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta, was offering a virtual forum about the vaccine.

The forum was moderated by Pastor Damon Williams, a frequent lecturer in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech. The panel included three doctors — a pediatrician, an oncologist, and a general surgeon — who carefully explained the medical facts surrounding the vaccine to help church members understand that the vaccine is safe. They dispelled many misconceptions and revealed that one of the scientists at the forefront of the Moderna vaccine research, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, is a Black woman, a research fellow, and a scientific lead at the National Institutes of Health. They emphasized that the vaccine clinical trials did include people from many races and ethnicities and were thus deemed safe for this segment of the population. Ellis also felt reassured after hearing that this mRNA type of vaccine delivery had been used in previous virus trials and was not entirely new. The forum ended by focusing on the fact that the vaccine helps in preventing you from contracting the coronavirus infection as well as keeping you from becoming severely ill if you do contract Covid-19. In addition, it may help protect others you come in contact with, including friends and family. It became clear that vaccination is key to ending the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the forum, Ellis had a much better understanding of the safety and necessity of getting the vaccine. He thought about his new baby granddaughter and how this could protect her as well. With information directly from respected medical professionals and encouragement from trusted individuals, he changed his mind and signed up for the vaccine. He received his first dose on Jan. 27 at the Stamps Health Services vaccine clinic and said, “The nurse who administered my vaccine was so helpful, and she made sure that I would be safe during the process.” He said he experienced no side effects from the Pfizer vaccine that day and is due for his second dose shortly.

Ellis calls himself a “free spirit” and said, for him, the worst aspect of the pandemic has been living as somewhat of a recluse. “I prefer being out and being social. I love people and enjoy being around others.”

For Ellis, getting the vaccine was the first step toward doing that again.

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    Marlon Ellis vaccine photo

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Cathy Brim
Communications Officer I
Sustainability, Facilities, and Safety