A special outreach project is tapping Loudoun’s interfaith leaders to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach the county’s minority communities.
On Saturday, residents lined up at two historically Black churches in Sterling to receive their first inoculations. By the end of the day, some 800 people were expected to receive shots at First Baptist Church of Sterling and the Oak Grove Baptist Church. On April 4, another 1,000 doses are planned to be administered at the ADAMS Center mosque in Sterling.
The program is a joint effort of the Loudoun NAACP, religious leaders, the county Health Department and MedsPack Pharmacy.
NAACP President Michelle C. Thomas, who is the pastor of Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries in Lansdowne, said the virus has had a disproportionate impact on people of color, who are more likely to end up in the hospital or to suffer fatal consequences from the disease.
“What we have to do is have vaccine access and make sure we’re creating opportunities for people of color to have access to vaccines,” she said.
While Thomas acknowledged that there may be some veracity in reports of vaccine hesitancy, she said, “the greatest issue in the African-American community is access to vaccines. We are 50% more likely to be hospitalized and 50% more likely to die and 50% less likely to get a vaccine.”
Bishop Leslie Patterson, of First Baptist Church of Sterling, agreed.
“The reluctance sometimes is the misunderstanding that there is a distinction between faith and science. There is no conflict in the faith community with faith and science,” Patterson said. “We clearly understand that everything may have complications but the biggest complication for our community is, as Pastor Michelle said, the lack of access.”
“Vaccines are just the start of the things the interfaith community in Loudoun County are going to be doing,” he said.
“Everyone has to do their part. Today, the clergy community stands in solidarity—the interfaith community of Loudoun stands together in solidarity—to say we’re ready to do our part. We’re ready to vaccinate those members of our congregations who are underrepresented. We see you. We understand you. We buried your loved ones and we want to be the ones to bring those solutions to our community,” Thomas said.
In Loudoun County, 58% of the 922 COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization were Latinx, Black or Asian. Those communities comprise 32% of the county’s 263 COVID-related deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health.