CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Chesapeake health officials are partnering with several Black pastors to help vaccinate those in need in the community.
Chesapeake Regional Healthcare is working with pastors from 20 African American churches and four social organizations, including medical students at Eastern Virginia Medical School, to provide 2,000 scheduled COVID-19 vaccines.
The event was set for Tuesday, Feb. 16 and Wednesday, Feb. 17. Members of the community who are 65 and older in the phase 1b vaccination group will have priority.
“A lot of people will get the vaccine in the church. If it’s good enough for the church to host an event, I’ll come and get my shot,” said H. Patrick Cason, who is the senior pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, where the vaccine clinic is being held.
Cason is also the second vice president of the Coalition of Black Pastors, which started up after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last May.
The vaccination clinic is health officials’ and faith leaders’ effort to help those in the community who might not have access to get a shot at the hospital.
“We’re trying to get back to the normality of life, where we can still hug people and shake people’s hands and show appreciation that we all have a greater respect for now that we can’t do it. It’s our way of making sure. If you can’t get to Chesapeake General or other places where there’s a vaccine, you have no excuse, because now it’s coming to you,” Cason said.
But the clinic Tuesday and Wednesday also aims to target a demographic that’s more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Structural inequity has been magnified due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, chief diversity officer to Gov. Ralph Northam, referring to the grassroots efforts. “Therefore, innovative state-local and public-private partnerships, like this community vaccination event, help to provide us with a road map of best practices to replicate across the state, while encouraging continuous engagement with diverse communities across the Commonwealth.”
“It is imperative that we make efforts within high-risk communities like South Norfolk, as the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among its Black residents and persons of color are disproportionately higher than other races,” said Reese Jackson, president and CEO of Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.
Jackson says that South Norfolk has the second-highest hospitalization rate for communities in Chesapeake.
“Seventy percent of our patients hospitalized with COVID from South Norfolk, 70 percent are Black. It makes sense to have this here in South Norfolk,” he said.
Cason, who already was vaccinated, says the churches stepped up to help to show many that it was okay to get the shot.
“Oftentimes in the Black community, there is a fewer with the Tuskegee Experiment and things of the past. There’s a fear. We’re trying to make people understand that there’s no fear,” he said.
He still encourages people who are skeptical to get the vaccine.
“I tell people the vaccine is like heaven. I would rather live my life and find out there isn’t one than live my life like there isn’t one and find out I missed it. To me, let’s err on the side of caution. I’m an advocate for it,” Cason said.
He was also excited to see his grandmother vaccinated.
“I’m running on pure adrenaline and excitement seeing people coming to get vaccinated. My 89-year-old grandma was vaccinated today. That gives me reassurance that COVID won’t take her out. I’m just excited to see all these people that are coming through and people that didn’t have appointments but can get signed up for appointments. It was just an amazing experience today,” said Cason.
For one man, Tuesday ended a monthslong wait to get a vaccine.
“I went to several places. They were giving me the runaround. It was a blessing in disguise,” said Kenneth Bonner, who got his shot.
Bonner says he and his wife attend Bethany Baptist.
“She put both of our names down and by the grace of God they emailed us last week and told us to come on up here and I’m glad we did,” he said.
Cason says registration filled up in a day and they got calls from people as far away as Chesterfield County.
Chesapeake Regional Healthcare continues to provide COVID-19 vaccines at Chesapeake Rx in South Norfolk weekly and provides space on its Chesapeake campus where the Chesapeake Health Department and other physician groups in Chesapeake continue to hold vaccination clinics.
“I applaud everyone’s continued dedication to ensuring vulnerable communities are not left behind as we strive toward our ONE Virginia mission,” said Jackson.