Dr. Wes Stubblefield is the new district medical officer for the north eastern district for the Alabama Department of Public Health. His district covers Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, DeKalb, Etowah, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, and Talladega counties.
Stubblefield has been practicing medicine, from residency to a private practice as a pediatrician for 17 years. After finishing his residency in 2007, he spent 6 years in Auburn and then another 8 in Florence.
Within the past year he earned a public health degree, and has been working as a public health officer.
“The reason I left my practice to do this was to possibly have a broader voice and to help people make those decisions and help people understand the science to save lives,” said Stubblefield.
He has been very passionate about trying to educate the public about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Overwhelmingly, the vaccine has been very safe, and effective,” said Stubblefield.
With an understanding of some Alabamian’s mistrust of the vaccine, he wants the public to know that he and the ADPH care about the wellbeing of citizens, and aren’t interested in trying to control anyone or receive any sort of political gain.
“There is absolutely nothing political about people dying. People that are getting this virus are dying,” Stubblefield said.
He tries to help people understand the process and phases the vaccines have been through, to disprove the idea that it hasn’t been tested and reassure them that the vaccine is safe.
“When a drug goes to market, including vaccines, there’s a period of time where it’s studied. It has initial scientific studies, and then they do it in small numbers of people, large numbers of people, and then they release it for widespread use and they continue to study it over time,” said Stubblefield.
The vaccine went through an accelerated process, the virus itself and research is ongoing. It’s being studied every day across the world by the entire scientific community. Stubblefield believes that might be why there is confusion and mixed messages about the vaccine and the virus.
“The COVID vaccine was originally studied in a group of about 46,000 people before it was ever released for the general public in late 2020,” said Stubblefield. “Over time it has held up, and it’s still effective against the current variants
He worries mostly for the sicker and older adults who have more significant chances of getting sick and dying.
“Alabama’s data shows we are still in bad shape, and we have seen a very minor decrease of covid patients hospitalized,” said Stubblefield.
According to ADPH’s COVID-19 data dashboard, there have been approximately 40 COVID-19 related deaths in St. Clair County since Sept. 14.
Stubblefield said 50% of patients in Alabama hospitals have COVID, 75% of those patients are on a ventilator. The ICUs are still overflowing and limited access for people who do need ICU care for other issues.
“By far, we are not out of the woods. We are in a very critical situation when it comes to hospitals. If you talk to nurses and doctors, they’re frustrated and tired,” said Stubblefield. “They’re doing everything they can to keep people alive.”
Stubblefield has been in Alabama most of his life, and said he understands that it is a “proudly independent state.” He said the politics are complicated, but he and the ADPH support the governor and her safety recommendations.
“We’re going to support anything that improves the health of our public. We want to see everyone stay well, keep our kids in school and see less death and disease,” said Stubblefield.
He said in the past more vaccines would have saved lives, but it also could have saved America billions of dollars. He said it’s 150 more expensive for Medicare to admit someone to the hospital than it is for them to receive a vaccine.
“There’s a report that insurance companies spent 7.5 billion in preventable healthcare due to COVID,” said Stubblefield. “If we had everyone vaccinated, we could have saved almost 6 billion dollars”
According to ADPH’s COVID-19 dashboard, approximately 8000 people in St. Clair County have received a first dose of the vaccine, but not the second. Stubblefield said even this can change the effectiveness of the vaccine and make people more likely to be sicker. One vaccine does help reduce illness, but it’s still not as effective as two doses.
“We know that across the state right now, 83% of people who have been hospitalized with COVID have not had any vaccine. An additional 14% have had one vaccine. The small remainder are people who have had the vaccine but are still hospitalized,” said Stubblefield.
He also commented that the idea it’s not possible to get COVID-19 twice is false. He said there have been thousands of documented reinfections.
“There are people who have had the infection twice and have gotten very sick the second time. Getting the virus does not mean you’re not going to get sick a second time.”
People who get COVID twice have a likelihood of being sicker the second time.
“You cannot predict who will get sick and who will not,” said Stubblefield. “There have been very healthy people whose lungs have reacted very seriously to this virus.”
The reality of COVID is something he said is here to stay. He believes eventually we will see less cases, but will likely never see no cases.
“It’s a combination of realizing what it’s going to take to get us back to a normal life and thinking about the people out there that have suffered and died,” said Stubblefield.
For him, getting vaccinated was about the health and safety of his family before anything else.
“It would be difficult for me to consider what I could have done if I got somebody sick by not getting vaccinated and someone very sick, like a family member, ended up dying, that would be something that would weigh very heavily on my heart,” said Stubblefield.
He believes for Alabama’s COVID-19 situation to get better citizens will have to come together.
“These are people that somebody knows and loves, and if we all just banded together and decide to get this out of the way by getting the vaccine, being safe around each other,” said Stubblefield.
He wants people to know that he, and other healthcare professionals, only have good intentions of helping Alabama.
“I want people to know, we’re Alabamians, we’re not part of any broad conspiracy. I’m just a guy from Lamar County who was a pediatrician and now I'm in public health. I wouldn’t tell you to do anything that I wouldn’t tell my own family,” said Stubblefield.