Black Church Leaders Say Hosting Corning Pop-Up Pod Eases Vaccine Fears

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The Friendship Baptist Church in Corning will host a pop-up vaccine clinic on Friday with the goal of vaccinating residents of color.

It’s part of a statewide effort to get vaccines to marginalized communities. Throughout New York, people of color have been vaccinated at lower rates than white people, while they are also disproportionately affected by severe illness as a result of COVID-19.

The outreach team at Friendship Baptist Church was prepared when they got the call Sunday night that their proposal for a vaccine clinic was approved.

(Mary Altaffer/AP Photo)

Dawn White, chair of the church’s outreach committee, said she and other members proactively compiled a list of all congregants eligible for a vaccine weeks before. Weeks in advance, they called congregants to let them know about the possibility of a clinic and evaluate interest within the community.

Once they got the go-ahead from the state, members of the committee called each one and helped them register for the pop-up clinic.

White said she has heard some hesitancy about the vaccine from friends and churchgoers, but hosting the clinic at the church alleviated some of those concerns.

“The Black church has long been the focal point of the Black community,” White said. “People trust the Black church, they know the people in the church, and when you pick a location like that, it helps put more people at ease.”

The Corning-Elmira NAACP held a forum Thursday night in conjunction with the clinic featuring a panel of Black doctors from the Southern Tier and central Pennsylvania. White said it allowed residents to comfortably address their fears about the vaccine.

“This was a two-pronged approach,” said Georgia Verdier, President of the Corning-Elmira NAACP and a member of the state’s health equity task force and the UHS regional task force in the Southern Tier.

The NAACP chapter, Corning Inc. and the Steuben County Health Department also served as partners with the clinic.

Last month, Verdier submitted the application to hold a pop-up pod at the Friendship Baptist Church, where she is a member and deacon.

“We’re meeting people where they are,” Verdier added. “We’re not persuading them, we’re not beating them over the hat with anything. We’re validating their fears and issues and concerns because they’re real. We still want to help encourage them to get an injection so we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

In addition to hesitancy, vaccine registration has also been an obstacle to vaccinations across the state, especially for seniors without technology or transportation.

White said a lot of congregants at Friendship Baptist Church are older.

“We even have members who don’t get on the internet and don’t even have a cell phone,” she said. “We know who those people are, so we make sure we show up at their door or call them on their home phone to get them registered.”

Many others didn’t know where to go to get vaccinated or sign up. White said there is a gap in information about distribution and the vaccine itself.

“I think what you have here is that gap in knowing where to go,” she said, adding that there is also a lack of transportation to vaccinations sites that might have more availability than those nearby.

New York State allotted the site 166 doses. All registrations were conducted privately by the Friendship Baptist Church.