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It’s no secret (or surprise) that there is a lot of hesitation and trust issues surrounding the COVID19 vaccinations. We’ve all heard it, especially in the Black community, “They’re not about to pump God-knows-what into my body. I am nobody’s lab rat!”
There are some who might find this mindset utterly ridiculous and another instance of communities being ill-informed and/or “uneducated.” However, let’s not be too hasty to rush to judgment. This country has given Black people more than one reason to be skeptical of situations like this. From receiving a lower quality of healthcare than to the infamous syphilis study on hundreds of low-income Black men. A study that was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, nonetheless. Not to mention, the skepticism around the rapid development of the vaccine, in which the usual development time of 10+ years has been zapped down to less than 12 months.
Since erasing history is impossible, changing the minds of a community won’t be an easy
feat. Neither infomercials, political persuasion nor medical experts will cut it. However, there are a few prominent voices of influence in Black communities… And they often stand behind a pulpit on Sundays.
Enter Pastor Terris King, of Liberty Grace Church of God in Baltimore. Having spent 30 years working in federal and other public health programs, he is adamant about diminishing the stigma around the vaccine. And he isn’t the only religious leader taking to the pew to promote vaccinations. Pastor A.R. Bernard, of Christian Cultural Center in New York, is ensuring his congregation and community aren’t allowing their suspicions to cloud their judgment by educating them on the vaccine and how to gain access to it.
Many other pastors are partnering with their local government and health organizations to not only educate their congregation but provide access to the vaccine. In fact, some pastors and community leaders believe state health departments should utilize churches as mobile vaccination sites in order to provide more access to the vaccine in Black communities.
Despite the distrust of healthcare institutions within Black communities, some are concerned the racial disparity in regards to the vaccine recipients might have more to do with access than distrust or fear. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study, 63% of vaccine recipients who disclosed their race were White, while only 9% of this group were Hispanic and 6% were Black.
So, who’s to say these numbers are the result of lack of accessibility? There have been many studies conducted that have highlighted a lack of pharmacies, hospitals, providers, and transportation in communities of color. By focusing on skepticism of the vaccine, and not acknowledging other systematic and structural barriers impeding access to the vaccine, some health experts argue that we are putting the burden on the community instead of pressure on a healthcare system to address these racial disparities.
It is evident that many churches have begun to play a role, in some way or another, in the promotion and encouragement of, and source of access to the COVID-19 vaccine. With Black and Latinx populations accounting for a significant percentage of the coronavirus death toll and growing evidence of a racial disparity in access to the vaccine, at what point does it become the church’s obligation to respond? We want to hear your thoughts. Is it a pastor’s moral obligation to promote “public safety” initiatives? Or is this just too political for the pew?