Vaccinations Through an Equity Lens: What Can Churches Do?

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It was this month last year that the first death to COVID-19 was reported in the United States. This pandemic has taken too many lives and could impact our communities for years. As I think about the toll this health crisis has taken, am I aware of those whose lives and communities are most affected?

Data shows that communities of color have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Black, Indigenous, and Latino Americans were at least 2.7 times more likely to have died of COVID-19 than White Americans adjusted for age. This is representative of “more than 1 in 470 Black residents who were lost in Michigan and New Jersey. Or the 1 in 410 Latinos whose lives expired in New York. Or the 1 in 300 Indigenous residents who perished in New Mexico.”(Andi Egbert and Kristine Liao, The Color of Coronavirus. See here for helpful information.) Globally, those with the least, the most vulnerable, are suffering the most.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities have not only lost a disproportionate number of lives, they also face inequity in the distribution of the vaccine. The United States has racial and ethnic data for only about half of the vaccine doses given, but of those five percent have gone to Black Americans and only 11 percent were given to Latino recipients. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 

Despite mixed feelings about how to address this issue, some churches are part of education efforts (see a news report on a Kalamazoo Church here), and some pastors are reaching out to congregants to help them overcome their hesitancy to take the vaccine.

Rev. James Brooks, senior pastor of Harmony Community Church in Chicago, has an interest in convincing his flock to get the vaccine. Brooks is also vice president of mission and community engagement at Lawndale Christian Health Center, a faith-based health clinic on the city's West Side.

When he talks with his parishioners, he understands their dilemma. It’s not easy to ask “people whom the medical system may have mistreated to get injected with a vaccine that didn't exist 12 months ago to prevent a disease that originated a world away.”

He asks them to do the research and find out why it's so important. Then he highlights the contribution by the Black scientists and doctors that were involved in this process. He also videoed himself getting the vaccine and posted it on Facebook (Joseph P. Williams, Senior Editor, US News and World Report article). 

Still, vaccine hesitancy is only part of the problem. There are also problems related to unequal medical care and vaccine distribution which can tend to favor better off, white neighborhoods, Natasha Williams, an assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine, points out. What needs to change? Is there a role the church can play?

Some churches are banding together to call for equity. Movements such as Choose Healthy Life https://www.choosehealthylife.org/ and #pastors4vaccines are hoping to offer community education, accessibility, and equity. 

Advocacy for vaccine equity goes beyond the United States. Recent reports show a high degree of vaccine hoarding, with developing countries having low access to supplies. A study by the Economic Intelligence Unit revealed that 84 poorer countries may not have widespread access to vaccination until 2024.

What would it look like to see vaccine distribution through the eyes of equity? What loving acts can churches promote? Has your congregation and community responded?

Here are some ways churches and congregants are responding:

  • Becoming a vaccine site 

  • Volunteering at sites

  • Transporting the most vulnerable to appointments

  • Promoting a community-wide effort to distribute vaccine information (I will be sharing a COVID vaccine toolkit with churches in my community.)

  • Addressing barriers, such as technology, language, and accessibility for the elderly, those with physical disabilities, English as a second language, or lack transport.

  • Advocating for extended hours or community-based approaches led by people of color.

  • Advocating for racial equity and increased access to vaccines globally.

Is your church engaging? Share your stories.

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This is a really helpful resource and ideas for pastors.  THANK YOU JODI!