Epidemiologist Ruth Carrico Promoted a Nurse-First Approach to Testing and Engaged with the Public to Battle Hesitancy About Immunization

Ruth Carrico head shotA nurse since 1976 with thirty years of experience with infection prevention and control, University of Louisville Professor Ruth Carrico, PhD, DNP, APRN was invited to Wuhan by the Chinese equivalent of the CDC. She visited shortly before the initial COVID-19 outbreak and when the first wave occurred, the question she was asking was “How do we protect the healthcare workforce [and] make sure nurses are not harmed in providing patient care… Our soul focus was keeping the healthcare workers alive and how do we have our nurses come back to work. If we’re not protecting them, why would they want to come back to work?”

This strategy required her to butt heads with those in state government who were pushing for widespread public testing despite the fact that, at the time, there weren’t even enough tests for healthcare workers. “We were very vocal,” she recalls in a candid conversation with Regis Assistant Professor Lawana Brown. “We were actually somewhat insulting of our state government in saying, ‘We know that your suggestion is based on politics, plus or minus ignorance.’”

Dr. Carrico has a large hand in the forward-thinking approach of Louisville which began offering drive-through vaccinations in the 1990s and recommended universal masking three weeks before the CDC in the current pandemic. Yet she also speaks to those in her community, including some reluctant healthcare workers, who frame the issues of masking and immunization in different terms.

“I agree and will fight for the right as an American to choose, my liberty, my autonomy and so I view this as one of those issues,” she explains. “I understand someone’s desire to be in control of themselves. The issue is at what point do you decisions harm someone else? You can still make that decision, from my perspective, but you can’t work in healthcare. We cannot accept your choice when your choice directly, we know from the evidence, can harm the person that is depending upon you to provide them with safe care.”

Dr. Carrico was recognized by Johnson and Johnson in their article “Meet 15 Nurses who Disrupted Healthcare through the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In this wide-ranging discussion, Dr. Carrico explains how she aims to build “vaccine confidence” to counter misinformation and hesitancy.