AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson
Nearly 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a community pharmacy, and in underserved areas, Georgia patients are more likely to have access to a pharmacy than other healthcare providers. The AME 6th Episcopal District for which I am the presiding prelate is headquartered in Fulton County, zip code 30303. In this area alone, there are 11 pharmacies that could administer vaccines to the community.
Furthermore, a February NPR study showed that in Georgia and other Southern states that most COVID-19 vaccination sites are in whiter neighborhoods. Expanding vaccination capabilities to include pharmacies is a logical step that increases opportunities to get the vaccine to minority communities.
Beyond the current pandemic, it’s vital that Georgia pharmacists can provide FDA-approved immunizations as the Black community continues facing disparate health outcomes and less access to care. Pharmacists offer more flexible hours and more convenient access for patients to receive immunizations against vaccine-preventable illnesses like the flu, hepatitis, or tetanus. In the last five years, more than 6 million Georgians have received vaccines from their local pharmacy – proving that pharmacists play a key role in increasing immunization rates, reducing overall health care costs, and saving lives.
In addition to making the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible, Georgia leaders need to engender trust in the Black community to foster greater vaccine uptake. Kaiser Family Foundation data has shown that Black Americans are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with 43 percent preferring to “wait and see” and 21 percent saying they do not plan to get the vaccine. In order to counteract this hesitancy, we need Black churches and leaders to have a voice at the table and to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Churches in Georgia are uniquely positioned to help in the fight against COVID-19. Not only are pastors trusted messengers who can provide key information to their congregations, but many churches already offer public health resources to their congregations, which could be expanded to support COVID-19 immunization efforts. If Georgia leaders are serious about getting the vaccine to those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, they would drive a sense of urgency and include Black faith and community leaders in plans for vaccine distribution.
According to a study in PLOS Medicine, Black Americans confront daily stress so harsh it physically changes bodies, causing Blacks to age quicker, have more chronic illness, become sicker and die younger than nearly any other U.S. demographic group. Because Black Americans are 37 percent more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans, we must improve Georgia’s immunization rates among Black residents.
In order to do so, the legislature needs to pass SB 46 to allow pharmacists to administer all FDA-approved vaccines and our faith communities must be included in efforts to increase trust in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
Bishop Reginald Jackson is presiding prelate of the 6th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) , which encompasses more than 500 churches in Georgia.