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Reservist on cutting edge of COVID-19 fight

Bridging the gap between science and community

Senior Airman Louis Shackelford is a frontline leader in the fight against COVID-19 and the distribution of vaccines. Photo credit: Courtesy photo

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For one who has come from nothing, Senior Airman Louis Shackelford has made a significant contribution to the struggle against COVID-19.

"The first obstacle I had to overcome that still echoes through my life was growing up Black, extremely poor, raised by my single mother in one of the poorest neighborhoods/public housing developments in Harlem, NYC," he wrote in an email.

"Through love, determination and grace, I've become a husband, an Ivy League graduate, a public health professional and an airman."

An aerospace medical technician currently assigned to the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron (AMDS), 446th Airlift Wing, Shackelford enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in 2018. "It was an open door to new possibilities for school, work and community building ... while channeling my passion for service."

That passion for service placed him on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic. As an external relations project manager in the COVID-19 prevention network (CoVPN) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, he manages all of the COVID-19 vaccine phase three trials in the country, except for the Pfizer phase three trial.

"My role at the CoVPN focuses on increasing knowledge, awareness and participation in clinical trials, especially in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," continued Shackelford.

To accomplish this he conducts webinars, workshops and virtual townhalls with community partners; he creates educational materials (to include blogs and infographics) to increase scientific literacy; he develops strategic partnerships with organizations to promote understanding and advocacy in clinical research; he engages in outreach to faith communities; and he serves as an ambassador for clinical research in communities.

Shackelford's work at the CoVPN also made him a valuable asset to the 40th  AMDS on matters concerning the COVID-19 vaccines.  

"Through my civilian job, I was able to provide my unit with COVID-19 vaccine educational materials that were eventually shared throughout the Air Force Reserve," he continued.

"I answered questions about COVID-19 for members of my unit and throughout the base and brought vaccine questions and concerns from Air Force members back to scientists conducting COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials."

One of the questions a few Reservists asked had to do with the G6PD deficiency and if a vaccine shot posed a problem.

G6PD is a relatively harmless genetic condition in which the body produces lower than normal levels of the enzyme gloucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD.

With little information on this condition, nurses at the 40th AMDS asked Shackelford to seek an answer from the scientists he works with at the CoVPN.

While on an All-Site-Call with COVID-19 researchers from across the globe, he asked the question and reported back that the G6PD deficiency does not impact one's ability to be vaccinated.

"I cherish moments like this most because they remind me of my responsibility to be the bridge between science and the communities I serve, which includes my fellow military members," he concluded.

"And I hope I give my fellow Reservists some peace of mind when it comes to the COVID vaccines."

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