Kori Skillman | Voice Staff
Riverside and San Bernardino Counties along with other counties in the state leaned on the influence of the church to encourage Black residents to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Research shows there are several barriers to vaccination that impact Black communities beyond the issue of hesitancy. Blacks, more than others, have limited access to the internet, computers, and transportation. All of this makes scheduling vaccination appointments online difficult for many.
Mitigating racially disproportionate vaccine administration is critical for achieving community immunity and ensuring Blacks are encouraged to participate in the vaccination process could help narrow the racial disparities of COVID-19’s impact on the Black community or, at least, prevent them from widening.
“We have so many of our people ill or [who have] passed away. The Black church decided individually and collectively that we can’t just sit and wait for somebody to come take care of us,” said Bishop Kelvin Simmons, of Immanuel Praise Fellowship in Rancho Cucamonga, during one of the church’s first mobile vaccination days.
Months into the COVID-19 vaccine administration in the U.S., Black-Americans still lag in vaccination rates nationally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported race/ethnicity information was known for about 55 percent of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Among them, 64 percent were White and 12 percent were Hispanic, while only nine percent were Black.
Though Black people make up six percent of California’s total population among those who have received at least one dose as of April 22, only 3.7 percent were administered to Black people compared to 38.1 percent to Whites, 16.5 percent to Asians, and 23.3 percent to Latinos according to state officials.
White residents in the Inland Empire are being vaccinated at a much higher rate than either Black or Latino residents. In response, public health officials and Black church leaders are working together for a solution. Public officials say that churches are crucial in lessening the divide in vaccinations by race.
“It is imperative that no one or no group is left behind in these efforts [to vaccinate the community],” said San Bernardino County Health Supervisor, Corwin Porter before his recent retirement.
Combating low vaccination rates
The vaccine alliance between churches and public health officials, formed through the African American Community Empowerment Council, consists of 35 Black churches statewide encouraging vaccinations to their predominantly Black congregations through mobile and pop-up vaccination sites right on church grounds.
“There are congregations that said yes to being part of this effort because it is part of our plan to help our community during this season of COVID,” said Simmons, who also serves as president of the Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches.
According to Dr. Leon McDougle, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at The Ohio State University, governments commonly enlist the help of Black churches during public health emergencies. He recalled the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s as the last time he saw similar unity between health officials and Black churches. However, he noted to the Kaiser Family Foundation, that this pandemic has accelerated the collaborative process.
“The African-American church is an anchor for the community,” said Sabrina Saunders, founder of the One Accord Project, a nonprofit that organizes Black churches in the San Francisco Bay Area around nonpartisan issues like voter registration and low-income housing.
She highlighted that in addition to spiritual guidance, Black congregations look to their pastors for emotional support, financial resources, etc because they are well-trusted by the community they serve. This trust is crucial in overcoming a long history of medical wrongdoings against Black people.
By Thursday, April 22, Blacks in Riverside County who are nearly 6 percent of the population, according to Riverside County’s new Public Health Officer, Dr. Geoffrey Leung, vaccination rates for the Black community are improving month over month. The county however still lags behind its target it is performing above the state average.
In San Bernardino County, on the other hand, 7.7 percent of Blacks were partially vaccinated and 14.2 are fully vaccinated again, above the state average. In addition, both inland counties are well above the national vaccination rate for Blacks that averaged nine percent on April 21 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
Earlier this year a KFF survey found about a third of Blacks who were either already vaccinated or wanted to be vaccinated as soon as possible, while about 43 percent of them wanted to “wait and see” how the vaccinations affected others. In addition, eight percent of Blacks said they would only get the vaccine if required, while 14 percent said they would not get the vaccine at all.
Of the Blacks who said they wanted to “wait and see,” more than a third said they would look to a religious leader for information on the vaccine.