PWJ funded handbook and webinar for congregations to reach out to the unvaccinated
Dr. Dana Horrell, pastor of Cooperstown United Methodist Church, is passionate about community outreach. Like many pastors across Upper New York (UNY), Dr. Horrell wanted to know how he could serve his community during the COVID pandemic. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021 helped to lessen the spread of the virus. However, despite the opportunity to get vaccinated, there were still people who were very hesitant to get the vaccine.
Everywhere anger at the unvaccinated has reached a boiling point. Dr. Horell said that it’s important not to debunk people who don’t want to get the vaccine. He said, “It’s important to listen to their concerns, Some are skeptical; some are concerned about the cost (not realizing it’s free); some distrust the system; and others want to be watchful and see how it goes long-term.”
Dr. Horell continued; “We are told to love our neighbor and we do that by listening to them
In May 2021, Dr. Horrell started work on a project he calls “Mobilize Vaccine Turnout!” This project, which was funded by an Upper New York Peace with Justice (UNY PWJ) grant has two components: a handbook and a webinar.
Right now, many are concerned about low vaccination rates. Congregations are uniquely poised to help, as many of them are in areas that are under-vaccinated or “socially vulnerable.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identifies as “socially vulnerable” those communities that deal with low pay, job loss, family responsibilities, and racial disparities in health care.
Dr. Horell’s handbook advocates compassion, curiosity, and a willingness to listen in talking with the unvaccinated. Initially, Dr. Horrell thought that the handbook would be about four pages. It turned out to be 39 pages!
The handbook and subsequent webinar support church members to:
a) Achieve a 90 – 100% vaccination rate in the congregation, its surrounding community, and other socially vulnerable communities in the region: and
b) Get to know and act on the broader social factors that affect health in the community, including disparities in access and affordability of health care. Churches that get involved in this project can help improve community health, wholeness, and justice.
The handbook explains that the church is not a political party, and it can de-politicize its response to the pandemic by engaging the community with scientifically based and politically neutral information about the pandemic and the role of vaccines in ending it. He adds that it is important to use simple language and deliver it in whatever format your neighbors use most often and prefer.
The handbook takes a “whole-church” approach to the problem, offering how-to steps for health-focused workshops, community forums, and vaccine clinics, as well as community surveys and door-to-door canvassing. The handbook also explains in depth how to talk to friends and family who are vaccine hesitant.
Dr. Horell said, “My hope and goal with the handbook and webinar is to encourage congregations to go ahead and have conversations, maybe hold a vaccine clinic, go door-to-door, or hold educational workshops.”
Rev. Horrell has a talent for how to draw the largest circle to include as many people as possible. Having an overview resource for vaccination efforts is so important.
Cheryl Lasher, the Development Director of RISSE at Emmaus UMC has had the opportunity to review the handbook.
She said, “My organization's biggest challenge is vaccine hesitancy. It's important to be able to educate outreach volunteers on what fears there may be and how to discuss while respecting people's perspective. Our population comes from all over the world, especially refugee camps. There may not have been a well-organized medical system in their native country or one which broke down due to war or natural disaster.
We have to meet people on their own ground. Having large families is hugely important to various cultures so concerns about affecting fertility is a big fear. Just telling people that something isn't true isn't enough. They don't fully trust big systems to have their best interest at heart. The peer-to-peer model is very important for our clients. Educating with the pros and cons of vaccines along with how to protect their children are also high priority.
The handbook gives each organization enough information and strategies to form its own approach designed for their unique population.
I think it is valuable for pastor-lead projects and can be headed up by dedicated lay people as well. The handbook reminds me of the proverb: Give someone a fish and they can eat today. Teach them to fish and they can feed their family.”
Click here to download a free copy of the “Mobilize Vaccine Turnout!”
The "Mobilize Vaccine Turnout" Zoom webinar will be held Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, 2-3:30 p.m. EST.
Click here to register in advance for this meeting. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.