WASHINGTON — More than two weeks after D.C. announced a pilot program to partner with churches to better distribute vaccines to underserved communities in the city, a second church has been added to join the initiative.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a briefing on Monday that New Samaritan Baptist Church in Northeast will start holding clinics to immunize residents 65 years and older. The church will utilize a mobile clinic that was once a school lab for STEM students starting this Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The faith community is absolutely essential to the health of the overall community, and we as a part of the community consider ourselves to be of compassion, conviction and connection," Bishop Michael Vernon Kelsey said. "This is just very, very consistent with who we believe we are called to be. We're very excited and grateful."
So far, 321 people have been vaccinated during the program's three clinics, according to DC Health. Outreach is done by church volunteers and community partners to congregants and residents in the community to sign them up for vaccine appointments.
"We are committed to ensure there is vaccine supply to match the number of clinics that are possible to stand up," a DC Health spokesperson said.
Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Southeast was the first partner under the program. People who signed up for an appointment online are placed in a waiting area of the church before they're called into the mobile clinic to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. They've held their clinics every Thursday and Saturday.
The church has already been heavily plugged into the community, especially during the pandemic, by offering food drives, help with voter registration and COVID-19 tests.
"We know the church is a real mainstay in our communities here particularly in Wards 7 and 8," Associate Minister Reverend Karen W. Curry said. "People know they can come to church, the heartbeat of the community,"
Five Medicine is the partner chosen to help administer the shots. Prior to the program, the Maryland-based company, established only in 2018, has been providing COVID-19 tests as well.
"You find people are still reluctant, but when they go through this process and how it's so simple, they actually go on and they're the biggest supporters of what we're doing," Robert Cort of Five Medicine said.
When the District announced the pilot program, the health department had about 2,500 vaccination appointments available for senior citizens in priority zip codes in Wards 5, 7 and 8, where COVID-19 has disproportionately affected residents. The wards also have the lowest percentage of people 65 and older who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to local health officials.
As of last Sunday, Ward 8 had the fewest residents who have received the vaccine.
Breaking down generations of mistrust and building better access to mostly Black communities where there's a big health equity gap is one of the reasons why churches are getting involved.
Curry said leaders who are considered credible messengers have received the vaccine as an example.
"It's very important for congregants to see their pastors and leaders step up and say and say we will go on this journey with you," Curry said. "It's a journey of faith either way."
There are many partners involved in the initiative including Mary's Center, Learning Undefeated, Black Coalition Against COVID and The Leadership Council for Healthy Communities.