Faith leaders and religious nonprofits in Pittsburgh are helping underserved Black communities to access COVID-19 vaccines — and to trust the science behind them. Here’s how
by Chris Hedlin
For Rev. Dr. William Curtis, senior pastor at Mount Ararat Baptist Church, getting at-risk communities of color vaccinated isn’t secondary to the church’s work. It’s essential.
“This is ‘church.’ This is what you do. This is the service element of church: ‘Am I my brother’s and sister’s keeper?’” Curtis said.
The need is urgent. Black residents make up a disproportionate number of COVID hospitalizations in Allegheny County and COVID-related deaths in Pennsylvania, especially for people ages 35 to 65.
But access is a problem. The vaccine rollout favors populations who have reliable internet, some tech know-how and time to spend searching for appointments. It also favors people with pharmacies in their neighborhoods and transportation to vaccine sites.
Vaccine reluctance is another major barrier. Father Paul Abernathy, chief executive officer of the Neighborhood Resilience Project and pastor of St. Moses the Black Orthodox Church in the Hill District, identified three ways the distrust manifests.
There’s a wariness of government systems that have failed and marginalized Black communities; distrust of medical institutions, rooted in a history of exploitation; and suspicion of corporations, who many fear are pushing a vaccine to help “the rich get richer.”
“These are overarching cultural attitudes that are greatly justifiable,” Abernathy said.
Connecting at-risk communities with vaccines is a two-part challenge. It demands a simultaneous effort to build confidence in vaccines and break down access barriers.
Rev. Dr. William Curtis stands outside of Mount Ararat Baptist Church. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)
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