Auburn alum, physician among first to get COVID-19 vaccine in Texas

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An air of hope was palpable as Dr. Justin Evans entered the auditorium at Methodist Dallas Medical Center to become one of the first people in the state of Texas to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

The 2012 Auburn biomedical sciences graduate is an emergency medicine physician who works for several health systems in Dallas, and he was among the first group to be administered the vaccine that has injected optimism into the nation’s psyche after a long and arduous year spent fighting the global pandemic. Evans, a 2017 University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine graduate, referred to Monday’s event as “an injection of hope” on his social media channels and was enthusiastic when reached by phone on Tuesday morning.

“You walked in the room and could just feel the excitement,” Evans said of the vaccine administration. “It felt like Christmas morning, and the whole hospital was walking around on its tip-toes. I think everyone is just starving for some good news and a glimpse of a turnaround.

“It just felt like, for the first time, we had real hope in turning this thing around.”

For Evans and his fellow health care workers, the arrival of the vaccine is a much-needed boost after a mentally exhausting year battling COVID-19.

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind, especially since this was a completely new disease that didn’t exist 14 months ago,” said Evans, who will receive a second dose of the vaccine in January. “Every week, there’s been a new development on how we get through this. It’s definitely built camaraderie among emergency departments and ICUs among the doctors, nurses, techs and custodial staff.”

Evans—the former chief resident for the UT Southwestern/Parkland Emergency Medicine Residency program—said his experience in 2020 treating patients suffering from the disease has validated his decision to become a doctor.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d play a small role in helping people suffering from a global pandemic,” Evans said. “That’s not a lecture we had in medical school. Medicine is this meshwork of science, research, compassion and service to others and mankind, and that’s what dealing with this pandemic has been like. It’s been very reaffirming that I chose the right career.”

Evans has been proud to see reports of Auburn alumni stepping to the forefront of the COVID-19 fight. He wears an AU identification badge holder at work and always is thrilled to run into fellow alums while serving the Dallas-area community.

“It’s been really cool to see what Auburn alumni have been doing across the country and read about how they’ve been getting plugged in in their various ways making an impact and a difference within their communities through the pandemic,” he said. “It’s been awesome to see people in different positions and different walks of life in different areas of the country who are all rooted in Auburn and have that common denominator.

“It’s fun to be at work or in a hospital and get a random ‘War Eagle’ from a patient or a fellow employee. That’s happened numerous times, and it’s been cool to experience that War Eagle moment in the middle of a pandemic.”

Evans—who was born in Birmingham and grew up in Pell City, Alabama—followed his father, Joe, and numerous other family members to the Plains and said there never was any doubt where he would attend college. After graduating from Pell City High School, Evans knew he was headed to the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn.

“It’s definitely a family thing,” Evans said. “Some of my youngest memories are driving down Highway 280 in my dad’s truck and tailgating at football games as a kid. So, the decision to go to Auburn was an extremely easy one, because it was just a part of me as I grew up. My high school guidance counselor forced us to apply to other schools, but it was a very easy decision for me.”

The Auburn Family mentality and “a spirit that is not afraid” is something the 30-year-old Evans carries with him as a physician, and the optimistic Tiger has done his best to administer hope while dealing with patients who may be fearful about overcoming the virus.

“I tell patients that we’re all in this together, and we have a vaccine and treatments that are on the way very quickly,” Evans said. “There’s certainly hope on the horizon and the tools to turn this thing around and get life back to normal. That’s what we’re all striving for.

“Normal can be here very soon, and I always try to point out that they’re not suffering alone and comfort their fear in that way. We still have a long way to go, but there’s at least a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s a way we can combat this and turn everything around.”

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