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In-Depth: Churches, community groups lead push to help vaccinate Black San Diegans

Vaccine rates rise 60% over last year
Posted at 6:13 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 12:48:00-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Churches and community groups in San Diego's Black communities have played a "critical" role in bridging the equity gap for vaccine access.

A year ago, an ABC 10News report on vaccine equity found Black San Diegans accounted for just 1.9% of all the vaccine doses received, even though they made up 5.1% of the eligible population. Now, county data shows that number has risen to 3.1%, a 60% increase. Much of that progress is attributed to the work of community outreach, instead of any programs on a county level.

"When you talk about creating a level of trust, that was very important," says Pastor Harvy Vaughn from Bethel AME in Logan Heights. His church held a handful of vaccination events in coordination with JIREH Providers, a local wellness center.

"It was absolutely essential that we brought this to the community so that people that were doing the vaccine, the boosting, and providing the information look like the individuals that were receiving the services," says Pastor Vaughn.

Community leaders say mistrust, misinformation, and lack of accessibility were the major factors keeping numbers down among Black people.

"Because the FDA, the CDC, and others are not necessarily in our communities, there is not necessarily a trust level," says Dr. Robert Gillespie, the Medical Director at Jireh Providers.

"We were able to take this to our communities," he says. "They're around their family if you will. Churches are their family. That provided a lot easier access to people. And trust. It became almost like a family event."

Churches weren't the only groups to reach out.

Countless other local organizations held smaller events in their communities.

In City Heights, Mid-City CAN organized more than a dozen vaccine and informational sessions. But rather than make them vaccine-centered, they offered all kinds of resources to help.

"(We offered) food, diapers, housing, employment, and any type of resource or tool that they may need in order to get them through this time," says Program Director Lexxus Carter. "We try and keep it as friendly and as fun as possible so that they feel comfortable and engaging in the space."

Mid-City CAN's events vaccinated anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred people at a time.

"All of the small events and all of the small numbers will eventually add up to be a very large number in the long run and push us to where we need to be," says Carter.

Even with all the success, there is still a long way to go. While 86.2% of San Diego County's eligible population is fully vaccinated, only 52% of San Diego's Black community is. Community leaders say they'll keep working to get more people the help they need.

"The future is bright, but it needs a lot of love and care," says Carter.

"I don't know what it's going to look like," adds Pastor Vaughn. "But whatever it looks like in the future, Bethel is going to be a part of coming up with solutions."

Events continue this weekend, with a health/wellness fair at the Church of Christ on 61st and Division in the Mt Hope/Webster neighborhood on Saturday. For more information, click here.