Faith-based organizations help with COVID-19 vaccine outreach

Kinston church leaders play a big role in getting members of their congregation vaccinated, a majority of them are African Americans.
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 8:53 PM EST
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KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Transportation, access barriers, and not knowing enough about the COVID-19 vaccine are obstacles that local churches and other places of worship are trying to overcome to help with equity of vaccine distribution by race.

In North Carolina, African Americans make up 22% of the state’s population, and 14% of people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are black, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website.

Although counties such as Pitt and Lenoir in eastern North Carolina are seeing changes in populations that were hesitant about getting the vaccine at first, places of worship have stepped up in outreach to help educate and build trust in minority communities.

The Temple of Deliverance Worship Center in Kinston held a town hall earlier this week to answer virus and vaccine questions.

“I was glad to hear them address the concerns that many African Americans hold, considering the history that unfortunately is a dark part of our history,” Kinston City Mayor Pro-Tem Felicia Solomon said. Adding, “where the bodies of African Americans have been used [for experiments like “Tuskeegee Study”].”

A week later, the church, along with the Lenoir County Chapter NAACP, City of Kinston, and the Lenoir County Health Department, held a small COVID-19 vaccine event. They had the event for about 100 eligible residents but found a majority who signed up for the first dose are people of color, including pastor Marcia Rhoe of Destiny Ministries.

“I was a little bit hesitant, but I came on. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” Rhoe said.

Although the distrust in doctors for some African Americans goes way back, Lenoir County officials said local churches have helped alleviate that by raising awareness and participating in vaccine rollout efforts. Members of Temple of Deliverance Worship Center demonstrated their willingness to help vaccinate residents by volunteering to set up vaccination appointments and creating the roster.

“All we had to do was show up, register folks and get them the vaccine,” Lenoir County Health Director Pamela Brown said.

“As the vaccine and more people that they know are vaccinated, it does help with a greater measure of calmness,” Solomon said.

Churches have helped before as COVID-19 testing sites across the country, but Brown said they’ve especially been of help as of late.

“You know, we know we do not have a list of every person 65 and older in the county in our database,” Brown said. “So we have to reach out to folks in some way to get them in for the immunization, but faith-based [organization] is such a powerhouse to put the word out there and to organize these things.”

Lenoir County Chapter NAACP president Barbara Sutton said they thought it would be a great idea to have a vaccine event at a location that African Americans in the community trust.

“We had church when we had nothing else,” Sutton said. “Everything that we needed we can basically find in the church and church is a trusted voice for the average African American. That’s how, why, we find ourselves here today.”

As vaccine rollout efforts continue to allow everyone to get the vaccine, Brown said collaboration is key.

“Working with our communities of color, working with our faith-based partners. When you’ve got all of these folks that are working together, there’s just nothing we can’t accomplish.”

For Latinx communities, the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, Inc., also known as “AMEXCAN,” helps register Latinos and Hispanics for the COVID-19 vaccine alongside Vidant Health.

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