Faith-based organizations help Black families obtain COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo)
Portrait of family after getting covid-19 vaccine

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with your partners.” I lead with that statement to underscore the importance of the collective efforts shown by faith-based organizations in the fight against the SARS Corona Virus Pandemic.

The SARS Corona Virus Pandemic has been at the epicenter of our very existence since 2019. Most strikingly, communities of color, already deep-seated in racism and injustice, continue to struggle the hardest to fight off the brutal attack of this virus and its extensive after-effects.

These communities, recruited to participate in clinical trials, testing, and vaccinations, are the same communities that can never forget numerous inhumane research atrocities conducted upon them. These invitations came at the same time communities were in the streets begging this country to put a stop to the continuous killings of unarmed black men and women without receiving a promise of halting these modern-day lynchings or the assurance of retribution and recovery by the victims’ loved ones.

The weak and unresponsive answers rendered the clarion call, “Black Lives Matter,” ineffective and inconsequential in this country. Convincing the African American community that the same country intended to create a vaccine that would protect and save them proved profoundly difficult to believe in and to trust.

Efforts to win this battle for recruitment and participation in both clinical trials and vaccinations called for an approach that involved joining forces across various parts of the community. In came the faith-based institutions (FBOs).

One of the most rewarding and promising methods has been developing partnerships with FBOs. Historically, FBOs have been and continue to be one of the most, if not the most, trusted entities in the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) communities.

Academic institutions worked to increase and strengthen relationships between the community and themselves with assistance from their community partners, such as the Community Faculty within Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and numerous Community Advisory Boards within UCLA’s Clinical and Translational Science. Those and similar efforts have resulted in numerous FBOs joining the ranks of these partnerships addressing the primary goal of halting this pandemic.

New and effective approaches at these houses of worship have been Sabbath Town Halls- aimed at increasing trust in the vaccines leading to increased vaccinations; hosting and promoting vaccine clinics on their premises; producing creative ways to increase membership gatherings (church-after-dark) that provide a platform to increase knowledge about vaccines, debunk myths found on untrustworthy social media platforms that increase fear and confusion regarding vaccines, and developing safety strategies for worship services that are grounded in the most current public health recommendations from trusted entities such as the Centers for Disease Control.

One specific example of culturally-informed, community-academic partnered activities was the production and hosting of vaccine pop-up clinics during the Juneteenth holiday weekend by numerous FBOs on their premises. Hundreds of parishioners and the community-at-large were vaccinated during those gatherings.

Houses of worship have continuously been instrumental in the COVID-19 fight by placing vaccine-awareness information in their print media (church bulletins, newsletters, e-blasts, web pages, etc.). Houses of worship have developed and hosted events that featured researchers, medical service providers, and academic leadership representatives as the content experts that their community could tap into for guidance and answers to questions and fears about the virus and the best methods of survival.

As this pandemic shows no sign of ending, we applaud our houses of worship and encourage the linking of arms in the battle against this relentless virus and other health disparities. The Struggle Continues.

Aziza Lucas Wright, M.Ed., is affiliated with UCLA, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Community Engagement Program