Dr. Catherine Phillippi is a pediatrician at TrustCare Kids in Gluckstadt. She grew up in Clinton, graduated from Central Hinds Academy in 1990 and received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mississippi College in 1994. She earned her medical degree from the University of Mississippi School of Medicine, where she met her husband, Mark Phillippi, who is also a UMMC graduate, in 1999.
Catherine Phillippi completed a pediatric residency at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and Mark Phillippi completed an internal medical residency at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. The couple then moved to Birmingham, where Catherine Phillippi worked as a pediatrician and Mark Phillippi completed a fellowship in nephrology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 2004, they moved back to the metro area and Mark Phillippi joined Central Nephrology Clinic and Catherine Phillippi joined Children’s Medical Group where she practiced until 2020.
Last January, she partnered with TrustCare Health and began a new practice at TrustCare Kids in Gluckstadt. The Phillippis are the parents of three children ages 19, 17 and 14.
Has your clinic treated many patients who have coronavirus?
“The last two weeks at my clinic have exploded with coronavirus and symptomatic coronavirus in kids. The symptoms are everything from sore throat and headaches to coughs, congestion, body aches, bone pains, diarrhea and in different combinations. Almost everyone who comes in sick is getting swabbed for coronavirus. We have seen swabs increase from 15 percent of swabs positive for coronavirus to 65 percent positive for coronavirus.”
Do children need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus?
“Yes, children should be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Pfizer vaccine is for children ages 12-18 and the Moderna vaccine is for anyone 18 and older.
“Studies and trials are ongoing now to reduce the age of patients who are eligible for the vaccine. New recommendations are expected to come out in September.”
Have many your patients received one of the vaccines?
“Yes, we have definitely seen an increase in the number of patients coming in for the vaccine. People are still very fearful and skeptical though. The population of patients that I am seeing delay vaccination are more likely to be on social media.”
Do you believe social media has played a role in parents not getting their children vaccinated against the coronavirus?
“Yes. Social media puts information at your fingertips and it’s hard to determine what is fact and what is not. Personal stories pull at your heartstrings that aren’t necessarily scientific data.”
What concerns do you hear from parents about the coronavirus vaccines?
“I hear the concern that the vaccine is new and hasn’t been tested enough. I also hear the concern that it may cause infertility and that we don’t know the long-term effects it will cause in our children. My argument is: Would I give something to my children and my patients that would hurt them or cause infertility? The answer is, ‘No.’”
Have you given the coronavirus vaccine to your children?
“Yes. When I tell parents that I gave my children the vaccine, it helps them feel more confident in their decision. Unfortunately, there are people who do not feel like they can trust any medical opinions. They want to rely on other sources.”
What do you tell parents who are concerned about the safety of the vaccines?
“I don’t know of any other vaccine that has had this many doses given over this short of a time span. I feel completely safe with the vaccine. I’m not scared of it. I’m pro vaccines. I tell my patients if you wash your hands and wear a seatbelt you should vaccinate. It’s an important prevention.
“People are vehemently angry that the government is trying to control us. I am very American and do not want to be controlled by the government. I do believe that when it comes to public health, it is our responsibility to do what is necessary to protect everyone that we can.”
Do you have any analogy about the coronavirus vaccine that parents may find helpful?
“I tell them that I am 49 and I lived at a time when some cars did not even have seatbelts in them. First, seatbelts were recommended as important, then they were mandated, then an electronic device was added to encourage people to use their seatbelt. People still refused, and so a law was made to make wearing a seatbelt mandatory. A lot of people pushed back. I remember my own family not wanting to buckle up. Over time with the law in place we have all gradually accepted universal seatbelt wearing.
“What I tell my patients is that even if you chose not to wear your seatbelt would you allow your 12-year-old child not to buckle? Would you put your child at that risk?
“If you chose not to wear your seatbelt, you are only putting yourself at more risk, not others. Can a seatbelt be the cause of your death in an accident? The answer is yes, but it is a minuscule risk. We fear death and long-term consequences like brain or neck injury from car accidents more than death from the seatbelt itself. You don’t buckle your seatbelt so that you won’t have a wreck. Just like you don’t get the coronavirus vaccine so that you don’t ever get the virus. You get it so that if you do contract the disease, it is milder and you do not require a hospital stay, an emergency room visit, a ventilator or ICU bed. Most of all so that so that you won’t die.”
What does it cost to get the coronavirus vaccine?
“It is free. No one is paying for the vaccine. Our country fronted the money to start the mass production of the vaccine. Our government is hemorrhaging money to get the vaccine out. There should not be one wasted dose.”
How important are masks, handwashing, social distancing and vaccinations to control the spread of the coronavirus?
“I’m passionate about controlling the spread with social distancing masking and vaccinating. It’s my job to care about the health of people who may not understand that this is in their best interest. I don’t want people like my daughter, who is 17 and at high risk, not to be able to live a normal life because people don’t understand how important the vaccine is.”
Will antibodies protect someone from getting the coronavirus?
“A lot of people are saying that if you have antibodies because you have had a prior infection that you are protected — and that is not necessarily true. We understand now that coronavirus mutates quickly and that infection from the ancestral strain is not a guarantee of protection. It is still recommended that you get at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, preferably two doses. The goal in the vaccine is to boost your antibodies to the spike protein, which is common on all coronavirus strains that we see now.”
Do you expect boosters to the vaccines to be rolled out?
“I believe boosters will be rolled out at some point. First, they will be for the elderly and then for the immunosuppressed high-risk population. We are waiting for recommendations about boosters.”
Do you think the coronavirus vaccine will one day be standard just as many other vaccines are?
“I have no idea. The flu vaccine has to be re-dosesd each year because it mutates. The RSV vaccine for premature babies is dosed monthly. We have scientists all over the world trying to determine the best plan of action against this virus. I am confident that this work will yield fruit I hope that we will end up with better recommendations and better vaccines.”
What mental health concerns have you seen in children since the coronavirus pandemic?
“Mental health has become the predominant visit since COVID-19 hit. It was already on the rise with the political climate and turmoil of the day. You may have parents who are stressed because finances are tight or a job has ended or perhaps a parent is living outside the home. Those kinds of things trickle down to kids.
“I do think kids are more resilient than their parents. Kids can do amazing things and rebound.”
Why did you choose to become a pediatrician?
“I love walking with families, knowing their stories. When I rotated through the fields of medicine, I found it rewarding to walk with a patient through the stages of life and become like a trusted family member. People come to me with questions from school selection to all kinds of things and that make me feel like a valuable part of their life. I have a front row seat to some of the most incredible stories and miracles because I am someone’s pediatrician.”
How old are the patients you treat?
“I treat patients from birth through age 24. The problems that face an individual 18 to 24 years old often don’t fit into a doc in the box or an internal medicine clinic. Problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, asthma and other chronic conditions that extend from childhood need a medical home. I find that the college student often gets lost. I hope to help with this continuity of care.
“One of the things I’m noticing as I’ve moved my and am meeting new patients is that a lot of people are not aware of how important the relationship component with their physician is. I’m seeing patients going into the seventh grade who haven’t seen a physician for many years. When I ask them about their friends, the foods they like to eat and other questions, their parents will say, ‘We’ve never had someone ask about that.’ Those are questions connected to routine visits. Pediatricians are trained to pick up on subtle changes over time.”