Into the vaccine breach: Estee Perlmutter APRN, FNP-C, ’06

Jennifer Turner
November 01, 2021
Estee Perlmutter ’06 administers the Pfizer COVID vaccine during a community event in spring 2021.
Estee Perlmutter ’06 administers the Pfizer COVID vaccine during a community event in spring 2021.

While a student in MUSC College of Nursing’s accelerated BSN program, Estee Perlmutter APRN, FNP-C, ’06 was particularly drawn to her population health course and the meaningful way it broadened her view of nursing within her own community. Eventually becoming a family nurse practitioner, she embraced her role as a community health provider while working closely with her patients to better their lives.

“I love the variety of patients I get to take care of,” said Perlmutter, who has worked at Liberty Doctors in Charleston since 2015. “As a provider, I try to listen to my patients and involve them in the management of their health. My goals and the patient's goals may not align entirely, and I think this is important to recognize. I strive to provide holistic care and address any barriers to health optimization.”

Perlmutter’s commitment to eliminating barriers took on a new significance in early 2021, when Liberty Doctors obtained Pfizer COVID vaccines at its Charleston primary care site. Immediately, Perlmutter saw a chance to make a difference. “We were grateful to have the supply but needed a vaccine administration plan to be implemented, and I jumped at the opportunity,” she noted. “I recruited volunteers and worked closely with John Park, our compliance officer at Quality Healthcare Development, and Shiva Green, our pharmacist, to develop an access and distribution plan.” 

With Perlmutter leading the charge, Liberty Doctors quickly expanded its reach deep within the communities of the Lowcountry. Its doctor office vaccine clinics grew into outreach efforts that included restaurants, jails, construction sites, parking lots, homeless shelters, community centers, parks and schools, among other places. The results were extraordinary—over 27,000 Pfizer vaccines were administered in the span of a few months. 

“Initially, I felt like Mrs. Popular because I had a precious resource that everyone wanted access to,” said Perlmutter. “It was almost like glorified party planning to arrange massive clinics (800+ persons at some) and provide a sense of hope during the dark days of the pandemic. It was empowering to see people come together and make a conscious decision for the betterment of our society. It was also remarkable to witness the support of our volunteers and very apparent that our efforts could not have been realized without their help.”

However, just as Perlmutter had come to recognize in her daily practice, sometimes health care providers can only do so much. “As time progressed, and unfortunately misinformation spread and politics became involved, I felt a sense of division,” she shared. “The formerly unifying sensation of ‘together we can beat this’ turned into educating and pleading with individuals to do their part, and we often experienced rejection. I felt angry and frustrated as a health care worker.”

In addition to witnessing the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic professionally, Perlmutter had a more personal reason to support vaccination. Her father, whose chemotherapy treatment limited his immune response to the vaccine, would likely have a poor outcome if infected.

“When studying pandemics and learning about the importance of public health, I never considered the personal aspect and an individual's power,” she said. “What if people don't make the ‘right’ decision?  If someone refuses to be vaccinated or doesn't quarantine after infection, they can infect others as a result of their decision.”

Perlmutter’s cause became even more personal this past summer when she experienced a Delta-variant breakthrough case of COVID and in turn infected her 2-year-old daughter. “For five months I'd thought about vaccines day and night and brainstormed how I could effectively help our community get vaccinated, and then I became infected,” she said. “I felt it was unjust that I had to suffer despite being very careful and getting vaccinated.”

“However, I realized that being a nurse is not about assigning blame and punishing those who make different decisions,” she emphasized. “Being a nurse is about meeting people where they are, explaining the science, sharing personal stories, providing appropriate education, being a good role model and an involved community member, and vocalizing the importance of vaccines, particularly during this evolving pandemic. I feel honored to be part of the solution to this public health crisis.”