April 14, 2021
Baltimore Sun
Closing the COVID vaccine gap: Small clinics at Baltimore churches and apartment buildings reach vulnerable residents

Joanne Bennett eagerly slipped off the blue jacket covering her right arm so a nurse could inject a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Bennett was all smiles, despite a dislike of needles, sitting in a chair in a community room of her apartment building.

“It’ll be nice to get back to a little bit of normal after being incarcerated,” said the 68-year-old resident of Bolton North apartments in Midtown Baltimore. “I call it incarcerated, but it was really me spending the past year in my apartment.”

Four months after vaccinations began, everyone in Maryland age 16 and older is eligible, and tens of thousands of people are getting shots daily at mass vaccination sites, pharmacies and elsewhere.

Bilingual Christian Church of Baltimore

At the Bilingual Christian Church of Baltimore, Bishop Angel Nuñez spent Friday night racing around the facility, where a vaccination clinic, boxed meal giveaway and hiring event were underway.

Nuñez worked with leaders on the state’s Vaccine Equity Task Force to hold the clinic at the East Baltimore church, where 120 people preregistered for appointments and others walked up hoping for extra doses. To Nuñez’s distress, some had to be turned away.

The charismatic church leader had worked with parishioners to find people in need of vaccines, then got them registered. He also called fellow bishops and pastors of other Spanish-speaking churches so they could get shots and pass the word.

Southern Baptist Church

The people lined up outside Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore last Saturday morning wrapped around the building onto North Chester Street. Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Baltimore City Health Department had signed up about 400 people for immunizations ahead of time but left the door open for walk-ups.

Within hours, they anticipated giving 600 shots.

For some the decision came down to opportunity, and for others it was the messenger: Bishop Donte Hickman Sr., who had been advocating for church-based clinics almost since vaccines arrived in December.

He heard from congregants what health and government officials are finally understanding: Vaccine hesitancy wasn’t keeping certain African Americans from being vaccinated, access was.

“When science and doctors can’t be trusted, people have always looked to the community of faith, their churches, to find the right and trusted answer,” Hickman said.

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