From the CDC: "Community- and faith-based organizations, employers, healthcare systems and providers, public health agencies, policy makers, and others all have a part in helping to promote fair access to health.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, we must work together to ensure that people have resources to maintain and manage their physical and mental health, including easy access to information, affordable testing, and medical and mental health care.
We need programs and practices that fit the communities where people live, learn, work, play, and worship… Finding ways to maintain support and connection, even when physically apart, can empower and encourage individuals and communities to protect themselves, care for those who become sick, keep kids healthy, and better cope with stress.”
It has been well documented during the coronavirus pandemic that communities of color have had higher infection and death rates due to higher rates of pre-existing chronic conditions and disparate access to healthcare. The social determinants of health such as lack of access to healthcare, clean air, clean water, and healthy food often lead to the increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses in racial/ethnic minority, and underprivileged populations.
Clergy are known to be one of the top 10 most trusted professions according to the Forbes Gallup poll 2019 (nurses are the most trusted profession). This and the historic advocacy of African American churches make clergy powerful messengers to share health promotion information.
As an example of a successful academic-community collaboration between Mayo Clinic and a group of African American churches, the FAITH! COVID-19 Response helped promote emergency preparedness and communicate risk among under-resourced communities during the pandemic (Brewer, L. C., et al, 2020). The FAITH! (Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health) program established a network of African American faith communities and developed evidence-based culturally relevant materials for distribution in the communities, and via social media, to mitigate COVID -19 risk.
This project highlights what public health leaders recognize, across faith traditions and racial/ethnic populations: that faith leaders can be trusted community messengers. Health educators have identified that health promotion and wellness programs are often best received when offered within the context of one’s faith. This promotes physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Clergy who recognize the racial/ethnic barriers in their communities, such as mistrust in the healthcare system, can collaborate to share important public health messages in a culturally sensitive inclusive way.
To be trusted community messengers, it is critical to be prepared with reliable, culturally relevant, accurate information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook for Jurisdiction Operations – October 29, 2020 to provide guidance to states about all aspects of COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration. This guide recommends including faith-based organizations in communication of inclusive, unbiased, respectful information to encourage appropriate vaccination especially in vulnerable marginalized populations. You can find COVID-19 Vaccination Program Operational Guidance for each state.
The key messages to share now:
- It is critical to continue to follow all social distancing, masking, and hand hygiene guidelines for several months to come until the majority of the population is vaccinated to protect ourselves and others!
- There is HOPE to be found in the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna under Emergency Use Authorization. The FDA and drug manufacturers are following the scientific process in developing and assuring the safety of the vaccines.
- States are implementing Phase One distribution including healthcare workers and emergency workers. These workers are at high risk of infection and are essential to caring for people who are very ill from the virus. They are also at high risk of spreading the virus to their loved ones.
- Phase One also includes workers and residents of long-term care facilities who are vulnerable due to age and underlying medical conditions.
Collectively we have learned a lot during this pandemic. Let’s continue to serve our congregations, vulnerable populations, and communities of color as stewards of the faithful love and grace of God by staying informed and sharing factual information.
Stay safe this Christmas, stay home!
Here are the state websites for specific information:
Social Media images to use are found on the CDC website:
Brewer LC, Asiedu GB, Jones C, Richard M, Erickson J, Weis J, et al. Emergency Preparedness and Risk Communication Among African American Churches: Leveraging a Community-Based Participatory Research Partnership COVID-19 Initiative. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:200408. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200408external icon
Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.