St. Louis Pastors Encourage Black Congregations To Get Vaccinated St. Louis has asked Black clergy to encourage church members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Pastors are preaching about it, talking it up at Bible study and even offering churches as vaccination sites.

St. Louis Pastors Encourage Black Congregations To Get Vaccinated

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

COVID-19 vaccine sign-up rates for African Americans are below that of other groups, and that includes in the predominantly Black North St. Louis County. The low rates are related to access, health care equity and vaccine hesitancy. In St. Louis and elsewhere around the country, Black clergy are taking the lead to encourage their communities to get the vaccine. St. Louis Public Radio's Andrea Henderson reports.

ANDREA HENDERSON, BYLINE: The St. Louis County executive has specifically asked Bishop Lawrence Wooten of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ to spearhead the vaccine campaign. He's focusing on clergy in predominantly Black North St. Louis County.

LAWRENCE WOOTEN: We have the highest death rate from coronavirus of all the ethnic groups. The Black community is the one that has been hit the hardest.

HENDERSON: African American faith leaders in St. Louis are among many Black clergy across the nation who are urging their congregants during both in-person and virtual church services to get the vaccine because African Americans are preregistering at lower numbers. In most of St. Louis County, about 20% of residents are preregistered through the health department. But in North St. Louis County, where many Black people live, it's under 9%.

WOOTEN: So we're the most vulnerable, and that's why we need it the most.

HENDERSON: Wooten is trying to change that. He's working with county health officials to get residents equitable vaccine distribution, and he is working with pastors to make their churches vaccination sites. Wooten has been vaccinated himself, but he's concerned that since many pastors can't get their own appointments, they may not be talking to their own congregations about getting signed up.

WOOTEN: A pastor is a person that is looked up to in the congregation. And if they can get registered and they're leaders in the communities, they can influence others to follow suit.

HENDERSON: One of those pastors Wooten's working with is Reverend Rodrick Burton. He's senior pastor of New Northside Missionary Baptist Church. Burton makes a point of talking about the vaccination with congregants at every opportunity.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK. You're sharing.

RODRICK BURTON: Can you see it now? OK. All right. Hey. Fantastic. But anyway...

HENDERSON: He's done a special PowerPoint presentation during Bible study that included information about the Black doctors and researchers who helped develop the COVID-19 vaccine.

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BURTON: We had a big hand in developing the treatment. The person who's on the screen...

HENDERSON: And he connects being in good health with what the Bible says about Jesus being a healer.

BURTON: This is so important. I'm still going to talk about it every service to get the people prepared so that they understand and, you know, just get it in their mind.

HENDERSON: Burton says he's seeing some positive effects from the vaccine messaging. A number of his members have already preregistered for the vaccine, and some have already gotten it. But he wants to do even more.

BURTON: My biggest concern is that people will drag their feet in getting it. And for me, it's very crystal clear. It's life or death. You know, we've had people die.

HENDERSON: One of the church members Burton influenced to take the shot was Juliette Hughes. She was hesitant.

JULIETTE HUGHES: I was one of those people with conspiracy theories in my head at first because we all go back to the Tuskegee experiment and other things throughout history.

HENDERSON: Hughes' church encouraged her to talk to local doctors to gain clarity about the vaccine, and that helped her conquer her fears. In fact, she broadcast her own vaccination on Facebook Live.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello.

HUGHES: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right, are you both getting the vaccine?

HUGHES: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK. All right, I just need your ID...

HENDERSON: And now Hughes even helps host conversations on her congregation's Facebook page to encourage others to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Henderson in St. Louis.

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