Black churches across the nation have become essential in getting accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccines to community members. The work of faith leaders is being recognized as an effective tool against stigma surrounding the vaccine, and getting more Black Americans inoculated.
“I am trusting the people I trust. That’s what it came down to,” John Mayfield told NBC News. “And it was impactful that I heard it from many pastors. And the truth of the matter is they are right. We’ve got to get past this thing that’s devastating us, and this is really the only way,” the 54-year-old entrepreneur from Chicago added.
According to the outlet’s report, Black faith leaders are being recognized by health agencies like the CDC for their work in getting more Black people vaccinated against coronavirus. African Americans, so far, have received the vaccine at significantly lower rates than other groups, attributed to both a lack of access and a lack of trust.
“We have a role to help Black people understand that –– even though there has been a history of misuse and abuse around medicine, around testing, our bodies used for experimentation purposes, etc. –– still, if we are going to survive as a Black community, we have to take these precautions,” Rev. Jacqueline Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in NYC told NBC News. “We have to wear a mask and social distance. And we have to get the vaccine as soon as we can so our families can be healthy and whole.”
Pastor W. Franklyn Richardson of the historic Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, New York told the outlet health experts need Black faith leaders to get their message to communities most impacted by the pandemic. “The medical community cannot solve the lack of confidence Black people have [of the vaccines] by themselves,” Pastor Richardson said. “Church is a trust institution. And we, Black church leaders, are obligated to become very knowledgeable of the problem so we can share truths,” he added.
Pastor Richardson also serves as the chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches, which reflects a membership of 15 million people across 30,000 congregations, according to the group’s website. The conference has launched the Reach, Educate, and Vaccinate or R.E.V. program to spread vaccine awareness and even turn churches into vaccination sites. The program is particularly helpful as the nation works to get the vaccine to rural communities and “pharmacy deserts” where vaccination sites may create a barrier to access, especially for Black Americans. The conference worked to identify 20 cities where churches can distribute the vaccines with CVS as a partner. The official rollout is set to begin a “few weeks,” according to Richardson.
The conference is also offering training on the vaccine to 3,000 Black pastors over the next year, enabling the leaders to “go back to churches with materials specific to African American communities to educate,” Richardson explained.
Leaders are hopeful that these efforts and more can help reduce barriers to accessing doses of the vaccines and combat stigma surrounding them as well.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced the US would have enough vaccines to inoculate every adult in the country by May. So far an estimated 39 million Americans have been fully vaccinated.
Photo Credit: Getty Images