The 'Twin Sister Docs' in Philly (and Their Teens) Share Why Getting Vaccinated and Spreading the Word Was Key

Identical twins Dr. Delana Wardlaw and Dr. Elana McDonald have been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 pandemic began to give back and keep their community healthy. For PEOPLE's Why I'm Getting Vaccinated Series, they share their personal experience

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Dr. Elana McDonald, left, and Dr. Delana Wardlaw. Photo: Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

Identical twin sisters Delana Wardlaw and Elana McDonald are 47-year-old physicians who have devoted countless hours trying to keep their hometown of Philadelphia informed and healthy through the pandemic. In addition to their busy practices in underserved areas of the city, McDonald, a pediatrician and Wardlaw, a family practitioner, have spread their outreach by educating people — including addressing vaccine hesitancy — through their website TheTwinSisterDocs, on social media @TwinSisterDocs, through town halls, local radio shows, and by volunteering to run COVID-19 vaccination clinics in schools.

Each are married moms of two; Wardlaw has 13-year-old twins — Amira and Khalif — while McDonald is the mother of Ryan, 15 and Roman, 17. Everyone in both families was eager to become fully vaccinated and boosted. They tell their story about why they and their kids got vaccinated in their own words to PEOPLE.

Delana Wardlaw: Dr. McDonald and I come from a community that has social challenges and economic challenges. We're also from a community-oriented block: Everybody was involved in keeping an eye on the children, making sure that everyone was safe. We always say that we're giving back to the community that helped mold us into who we are today.

Elana McDonald: Our goal is to make sure people in underserved areas are getting the best health care possible.

Wardlaw: When the pandemic started, we participated in volunteer testing in underserved communities that were being disproportionately affected but didn't have the access to testing. We then pivoted to providing vaccine education so that we could address concerns, the questions, the hesitancy. And we've been volunteering to provide vaccines to children in different school settings. So far we've done 15 clinics in five schools and vaccinated 489 students, parents, siblings, and school administrators.

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Dr. Elana McDonald, far left, and Dr. Delana Wardlaw, far right in pink, with family they vaccinated at a Philadelphia school clinic. Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

McDonald: There is a huge amount of hesitancy when it comes to the vaccine. I have patients from every ethnic demographic. And a lot of parents are really concerned. They said the vaccine was just created too soon. They're worried about side effects, and are just very nervous about the vaccine.

I believe one of the most effective things is my long term relationship with a family. I say the COVID vaccine is just like all these other vaccines that we have been giving all of your children for the last X amount of years to protect them. It's no different than when I gave your child the tetanus, meningitis, the polio, the MMR, the measles. The vaccine is here to protect you from getting deadly disease.

I had a mother come in who has five children and I've taken care of all her children for the last 17 years. She was so anxious when she came in to get the vaccine. I said, "Tell me what's wrong." She said, "I'm nervous." Of course misinformation was out there, and I addressed all of that. She was still nervous.

And I said, "You know, I did give this vaccine to my sons. I believe this vaccine is safe. The data is saying that it's safe." And when I told her that, it was like this big burden was just removed from her shoulders. She says, "You gave it to your kids. Okay. Then I will give it to my kids."

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Dr. Elana McDonald, her husband and sons. Courtesy Dr. Elana McDonald

Wardlaw: African Americans, we carry a heavy burden of many diseases: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, to name a few. And COVID as well. We were disproportionately affected by COVID. Now that we have a measure in place that will essentially prevent us from developing severe consequences and/or death from COVID, we should strongly, strongly, strongly consider the vaccine.

COVID now is essentially a preventable death. The science has shown, the data has shown that most of the people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated. I say to patients, I have taken the vaccine myself. My children have also been vaccinated, my husband as well. Our entire house is vaccinated. And I let people know that COVID-19 has shown us that it does not discriminate against anyone.

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Dr. Delana Wardlaw with her husband and twins Khalif and Amira. Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

Amira Wardlaw, 13: I was excited to get my vaccine. It's a way to keep everybody safe. I saw how much my mother and my aunt were helping people and the impact they were making on people's lives and I wanted to make a positive impact as well. Getting my vaccine, I just did a little part in helping everybody become safer.

Khalif Wardlaw, 13: I was really happy to get mine, it allowed me to do more things, like sports, and go back to school. Getting the vaccine, there was a low risk with a high reward. So it's really rare to get really sick from the vaccine, but if you don't get it, your chances of getting COVID are much higher.

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Khalif Wardlaw getting his COVID-19 vaccination. Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

Wardlaw: Unfortunately there are still people who haven't received the vaccine. Many of the reasons that I still hear is, that people are concerned that the vaccine was made too quickly when, in fact, the messenger RNA technology has been in development for well over a decade.

And there's questions about pregnancy, should it be taken during pregnancy? And, actually, it is recommended that patients who are pregnant receive the vaccine because for pregnant women, the complications of COVID can be devastating on a pregnancy.

So, again, to prevent those complications, it is recommended that pregnant women receive the vaccine. There hasn't been any data or research to show that the vaccine has had any negative effects on pregnancy.

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Dr. Elana McDonald vaccinating identical twin Dr. Delana Wardlaw. Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

McDonald: It's important for us to continue to go back and review the data that's out there now. And now that we have hundreds of millions of people who have been vaccinated, we know that there have been very, very, very few adverse effects.

Amira: I hope this encourages people to get vaccinated to stop the spread of this virus and save more lives. It's time to think about not just you, but everybody else around you. I feel a little part of normalcy was given back to me when I got vaccinated. I was relieved.

McDonald: We understand that it's very important for people to feel comfortable with those who are giving them medical information. And we know based on the history in the United States, a lot of people, especially African Americans, were uncomfortable with the medical establishment.

twin sister doctors Elana McDonald and Delana Wardlaw
Amira Wardlaw receiving her COVID-19 vaccine. Courtesy Dr. Delana Wardlaw

So we go into these schools to give the vaccines and the majority are African American, and they get to see doctors of color. What's very important to Dr. Wardlaw and I is representation. There's not a lot of African American physicians, let alone African American women physicians; we make up only 2 percent of all doctors.

I am always thankful for my ability to connect with people and to be able to get out and provide them with the services that they need during such a tumultuous time. I entered the field of medicine to make a difference.

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