Churches Playing Key Role in Vaccinations

Apr 15, 2021

Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

As efforts expand to get people vaccinated for the coronavirus, more organizations and businesses are getting involved. 

Archie Thomas' mother, Elizabeth, captures the occasion on her cell phone.
Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

Archie Thomas and Derrick Autry are both at the Greater St. James Community Recreation and Education Center for the clinic administered by the Vanderburgh County Health Department.

Thomas is getting his first dose of the Moderna vaccine today, Autry is not.

While in some ways their stories may sound typical, it’s clear that they’ve thought about COVID-19 and the vaccine…a lot.

And, their individual decisions are wrapped in layers of personal history, their experiences with systemic racism and family suffering during the pandemic which has hit Black citizens of this nation harder than other populations.

In order to get people vaccinated against the deadly virus, what is bridging this chasm of mistrust is the only thing that can right now- the Black Churches.

Archie Thomas brought his mother Elizabeth to the clinic so they could both be vaccinated. 

“I did have an uncle to pass away a couple of months ago from it," Thomas says, "He did have a pre-existing condition. When he got COVID, he was in the hospital for quite a long number of days and it just didn’t work in his favor.”

There’s another reason.

“Well, I do have a pre-existing condition, diabetes, so I think it would be in my best interest to get vaccinated, just for that reason alone and I just think it’s also a good thing to do.”

VCHD workers administered the Moderna vaccine at the clinic.
Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

But even with those seeming incentives, the decision to get the vaccine was not an easy one. Then, the church stepped in.

“Did you have some concerns about it?”

Thomas says, “I did at first, but the church in Owensboro that I attend, Mount Calvary, Pastor Andre Bradley, he had a medical professional come and talk to us and give us information about it so I was at ease when I attended that session. I had a little bit more knowledge.”

“So the church in your case, played a role in you getting the vaccine?”

“Yes sir. It did.”

“How important do you think that role is?”

“It’s good. Being a faith-based Christian, it’s good to have all kinds of information and these are things the church needs to talk about so they can be very proactive concerning health. Because the church is for health and well-being and also to bring the Gospel and the good news to people so it encompasses all," Thomas says.

Derrick Autry was not vaccinated at the clinic, but made an appointment for a later clinic.
Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

Derrick Autry stood along one wall of the Greater St. James center, chatting with an Evansville police officer who was providing security. He had volunteered to help direct traffic for the clinic, but there wasn’t a lot to do. While health department officials originally planned for up to three hundred people at this clinic, only eleven doses of vaccine were given.

We want to be clear that no vaccine is wasted, regardless of the situation at individual clinics. Because of low registration for this clinic, health department workers had only brought enough doses of the Moderna vaccine to give to the people who were registered.

Which brings us to Derrick Autry’s case. He and his wife Tonya had discussed the matter at length and decided initially not to get vaccinated at this clinic, despite being encouraged by Greater St. James leaders to do so.

Autry says, “Just wanting to know how effective it would be, just listening to other peoples’ opinions which really doesn’t make a difference on my final decision. Just a little leery.”

“What questions do you have about it?”

“Not trusting the government, how did they come up with a vaccine so quick. Side effects from the vaccine, how long does it last?”

Autry changed his mind, after, he says, a good night’s sleep and seeing a news story about a young person who contracted coronavirus and ended up on a ventilator.

Because they had no extra doses of vaccine, health department workers signed Autry and his wife up for another vaccine clinic a few days later.

While only eleven doses of vaccine were given at the clinic, organizers say it was successful and will prompt more people to get the vaccine.
Credit Steve Burger / WNIN

Emmitt Tramill is a deacon at Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church who coordinated the clinic. I asked him about the low turnout for this clinic, and resistance to the vaccine in general.

Burger: “The response was probably not as good as you had hoped…”

Emmitt: “Right,  but when the question was asked, one Sunday morning by our pastor Richard Pollard, Sr. that, he wanted a show of hands of everyone who has received at least one vaccination and I was surprised at the number of hands that went up. And so, that kind of told me that the participation would not be three hundred plus today, which is what the Vanderburgh County Health Department had prepared for. I expected more from the community, but at least one other church in this area has also had a vaccination clinic two to three weeks ago and just this past Saturday they had a vaccination clinic. We’re in walking distance of each other. They have gotten a lot of people in the community to get vaccinated. We’re happy that anybody can get the vaccination as soon as possible.”

Burger: “Nationally, there have been people within communities of color and they said, ‘We’re not getting the vaccine in the same numbers.’ Is that your experience here?”

Emmitt: “Yes. Not here at this facility or this church, but out in the community I have heard people of color, my people, say they’re going to wait because they want to know what’s in it. They want to know how it’s going to affect their existing conditions. They’re skeptical because of the past medical conditions such as the Tuskegee experiment, which I didn’t know ended in 1972. Lotta’ people older than me, the elders, remember that time very well. So, when it comes to being vaccinated, they have this skepticism and some of it is rightfully so. But this time, I believe it is safe. I’ve had it and I feel fine. So, I think there is really no cause to fear this time.”

Burger: “But it is hard, isn’t it, for some people to get past some of that and get vaccinated.”

Emmitt: “Right. I guess it’s a mind set and the people know about it. They just have to get over it. This virus is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Most of us have never seen it. So, if we get a chance to do something about it, positive, let’s do it.”

There is another clinic scheduled at Greater St. James in early May to give second doses to those vaccinated, and organizers hope, more people from this neighborhood and the community who will sign up to receive their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.