VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — National health experts have said that the unvaccinated make up roughly 97 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and almost 100 percent of virus deaths. In the race to increase the vaccination rate, local faith leaders are playing a vital role.
At New Light Full Gospel Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, leaders there told 13News Now that it’s not about forcing people to get the COVID vaccine, but rather helping them understand on a peer level.
"We just want to make sure that all the information is available," said Pastor James Booker. "When the vaccination is available and free to the public, we pray that they will take it so that it will protect them and their families from catching COVID and especially the Delta variant that’s out now."
The church teamed up with the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health for a vaccine clinic in the late afternoon and early evening hours Wednesday. It's not the first time that they've hosted.
"As a nurse, you want to see people take care of themselves and help the community as well, so it’s very gratifying to see," said Shirley Jones with the church's health ministry.
New Light is helping people in the community – including members within the congregation – overcome vaccine hesitancy. Health care worker and church member Varneeda Smith decided to get her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
"I hesitated because I didn’t know if it had side effects or anything towards it. And then I care about myself and my patients, so I wanted to make sure I was OK," she said.
Her teen grandson Jay’Veon also tagged along to receive his shot.
"I'm hoping it’ll give me way more freedom, because I’ve been in the house too long," he said.
It’s not just New Light in the effort. Many other churches – like Gethsemane Baptist in Newport News and Carrollton – are playing a key role.
"For persons who have been hesitant, I think the clergy voice especially for those who are part of the congregations means a lot," said Rev. Dr. Dwight Riddick, senior pastor at Gethsemane Baptist Church.
Riddick added that outreach also takes a multifaceted approach.
"There are individuals we will talk to one and one, there’s encouragement that comes from our pulpit, as well as we engage in the community. I don’t think it’s going to be one single approach," he said.
His church has also tried to bridge a gap among unvaccinated young people. They’ve hosted a talk show, featuring church members and health experts.
To find a vaccine clinic closest to you, you can go to vaccinate.virginia.gov.