Opinion: Churches, partners step forward for COVID vaccine equity

Leshea Moore, from Michigan, prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Ontario Convention Center. This was the 35-year-old’s first stint as a travel nurse. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Leshea Moore, from Michigan, prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Ontario Convention Center. This was the 35-year-old’s first stint as a travel nurse. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that there will be enough vaccine supply to inoculate the entire U.S. population by the end of May is news we’ve all been waiting for. For more than a year, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the nation, filling hospital beds, keeping families inside their homes, crippling our economy, and preventing children from reaching their full potential inside the classroom. We’ve all suffered — but finally, the end of the pandemic is within our grasp.

At this point, Georgia and our country can’t afford to lose sight of ever-present health disparities caused by lack of access to care for those in our most-vulnerable communities, many of them Black and Hispanic.

Rev. William Watley
Rev. William Watley

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Trends indicate declining hesitancy to receive COVID vaccines among communities of color. But we can’t finish the life-saving mission of pandemic recovery if underserved communities still lack internet access to make vaccine appointments and the means to travel to and from the vaccination sites.

As in other community emergencies, churches and caring business partners are coming together to help fill those critical gaps. If the people can’t or won’t come to the vaccines, we must bring the vaccines to them. It is a matter of life and death.

Shauna Markes-Wilson
Shauna Markes-Wilson

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

In Atlanta, St. Philip AME Church, St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church, and Jackson Memorial Baptist Church joined forces with Walgreens and Uber to help break down access barriers by going into underserved communities and hosting vaccination clinics. After weeks of planning, our organizations came together to host COVID vaccine clinics between the three churches in northwest, east and southwest Atlanta.

We took a grassroots approach and spread the word by sharing messages in church bulletins, posting the news to our websites and social channels and canvasing our communities with flyers. We even invited our eligible city police, fire, and EMT personnel to sign up. The response was incredible. We are delighted to share that approximately 7,000 vaccinations were administered in just over three days.

Although the Biden administration has recently announced its vaccination goals are well ahead of projections, this coalition of church and business leaders are still acutely aware of another key set of facts.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22% of our vaccinations have been administered to people in the Black community, yet they make up 32% percent of our state’s population. This is in comparison to 66% of vaccines administered to those in the white community. Even more striking is the Hispanic community, where only 9% percent of people have been vaccinated, despite being 10% percent of the population.

Georgia and the nation simply must increase efforts to drive vaccine equity — especially within ethnic minority communities — because those communities today still have a greater risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Our partnership with churches and businesses has its rewards beyond life-saving vaccinations. We are humbled by the outpouring of appreciation and excitement that continues even now. Patients who were vaccinated were so grateful that our organizations joined forces to bring essential health services into their community so that community members didn’t have to struggle to get vaccinated. This is just part of the solution, and we know that we’re one of many examples of efforts that are underway across the state of Georgia.

We are at a pivotal point in our fight against COVID-19, and we all have important roles to play. While hesitancy within the Black community has dramatically decreased in recent weeks, there remains much work yet to be done to share information that addresses hesitancy and to collaborate for ways to offer equitable access.

As vaccine supplies have increased, pharmacists and Atlanta’s community leaders will continue working to vaccinate our entire population. The government cannot do it all. We need everyone to do their part. When the vaccine becomes available to you, please make sure you become vaccinated.

Rev. William Watley, Ph.D., is senior pastor at St. Philip AME Church and Shauna Markes-Wilson, Pharm.D., is area healthcare supervisor for Walgreens.

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