By now millions of Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are beginning to safely gather and travel again. However, many communities (particularly in rural and low-income areas) are behind much of the country when it comes to vaccinations. Vaccine distribution is complicated by lack of access in some areas and distrust/misinformation in others. Congregations have a unique opportunity to assist with vaccine advocacy and distribution within their local community and across the globe.
The United Methodist Church has always been active in supporting human health concerns. John Wesley was an advocate for public health and medicine in his own time. His general rules to “Do no harm” and “Do as much good as possible” compelled his followers to watch over one another and practice common sense to prevent epidemics. Today, United Methodists are still committed to promoting global health and wellness for all God’s children.
Below are just some of the ways congregations can become vaccine advocates.
Church leaders are trusted sources for information and guidance among their congregants. With great trust also comes great responsibility. Remind church members that you care about their physical and their spiritual well-being. Trustworthy information on vaccines, the vaccination process and other health guidelines should be available and shared within your congregation. Here are some of the ways to help get the word out.
- Post links to local vaccination centers and how to schedule appointments online. Consult the CDC website, your local government or nearby hospitals/health clinics to get the best information. You may also want to consult your annual conference.
- Remind members during worship services to schedule their vaccine appointments.
- Invite a health care professional or local community representative to talk to your congregation about vaccinations. Allow them time to answer questions members may have about vaccines.
- Create a FAQ document to provide answers to frequent questions about issues such as:
- Vaccine safety
- Who’s eligible to get vaccinated
- Where you can get vaccinated
- What types of identification and medical information patients will be asked to provide
- How to schedule follow-up appointments
- CDC guidelines on what do once you’re fully vaccinated
Assist in distribution
Churches can also help directly in distributing the vaccine within their community. Some churches may reach out to their local health department to learn about how to become vaccination site. (See how St. Marks United Methodist in Charlotte, North Carolina vaccinated hundreds).
Even if your congregation doesn’t become a vaccination site, it can still help people become vaccinated by recruiting volunteers to help people set up vaccine appointments and provide them with transportation to the clinic or distribution center.
Support vaccine advocacy
Along with helping your own members and neighbors get vaccinated, your congregation can support larger global vaccine efforts and advocate for underserved communities who need the vaccine. Here are few suggestions.
- Partner with local community organizers and social advocacy groups to support vaccination efforts among underserved communities. (Read about how Korean and Native American United Methodists came together to support vulnerable communities during the pandemic).
- Organize outreach campaigns to raise awareness. You can start a door-to-door campaign to inform people about how get their vaccines or distribute mail flyers. You could also host a community event at your church or broadcast an online town hall. (Learn about how Hollywood United Methodist in California hosted a Facebook live encouraging people to get vaccinated).
- Join a multi-faith campaign to support and promote vaccine advocacy such as Faith4Vaccines
- Share photos and stories of members getting vaccinated online. (People are advised not to post photos of their vaccine cards online since these contains private information that be used by scammers).
- Encourage church members to donate to the UMCOR COVID-19 Relief Fund. (Note: By giving through the Advance, 100% of your donation reaches your chosen mission project or ministry).
“When you’re protecting yourself with the vaccine, you’re also protecting your community. When you’re helping people who are without access to knowledge (about the vaccine) and without access to the vaccine, that’s part of mission and part of loving your neighbor,” says Kathleen Griffith, Global Health team lead and senior technical advisor at General Board of Global Ministries (excerpted from “The mission opportunity of COVID-19 vaccines” by Crystal Caviness).
- The mission opportunity of COVID-19 vaccines by Crystal Caviness
- Helping your church respond to the coronavirus
- Churches increase access to COVID-19 vaccines by Heather Hahn
- Vaccines for COVID-19 (Center of Disease Control)
Philip J. Brooks is a writer and content developer on the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA.