Faith in the Vaccine: A "Push from God" in Central Georgia

Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors and student volunteers from Mercer University at a COVID-19 vaccine town hall and clinic in Macon, Georgia. Photo: Komal Gandhi

As an emergency room scribe working in a rural area, I have watched our healthcare system become overwhelmed by this recent wave of the COVID-19 delta variant and the traumatic realities of this virus. Before I started working within the healthcare field, such horror stories felt distant, almost foreign. Now, I spend 10 minutes before my shifts preparing myself for the worst: an influx of COVID-19 patients, the helpless struggle of ER staff adjusting to these unprecedented times, doctors sitting in resigned disbelief, and possibly the worst of all, the desperate looks of patients sitting in the waiting room for hours for care. Now more than ever before, addressing vaccine hesitancy is pivotal to protecting not only ourselves but our country.

This summer, I joined IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors initiative, a program instituted in hundreds of college campuses across the country to develop partnerships within local communities to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake and ultimately save lives. I was excited to reach out to our local Macon, Georgia, community and address the lack of trust towards the COVID-19 vaccines.

Studies have shown that minority populations, such as African American, Latinx, and Native American communities, have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The low rates stem from various sources, including misinformation about the vaccines, a history of medical oppression, and a lack of understanding of the virus and its complications. These communities also tend to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of what the Centers for Disease Control and Protection refers to as “long-standing inequities in social determinants of health.” According to the CDC, such determinants include poverty and healthcare access. Within Macon, these disparities are further compounded with the unique challenges faced by rural areas in response to the pandemic, like medical worker shortages, fewer hospital beds per capita, and limited access to telehealth.

Often when I would enter the rooms of COVID-19 patients with a doctor, I would hear the same question: “Have you been vaccinated for COVID-19?” Followed by similar variations of: “No, and I do not plan to. I know someone who was vaccinated and still got sick.” These experiences convinced me of the need for educational events that could address the spread of misinformation and alleviate the concerns of specific communities.

With the help of a fellow ambassador, Erika Thomas, faculty advisors, Dr. Jose Pino and Dr. Darlene Flaming, and Dominique Johnson, pastor of Kingdom Life church. we organized a COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall and Clinic sponsored by OneMacon as a part of their Family Fun Day event on September 11. Our panel of speakers included Dr. Cheryl Gaddis, chair of the Department of Public Health in Mercer’s College of Health Professions; Dr. Bonzo Reddick, physician and professor at the Mercer School of Medicine; and Dr. Jimmie Smith, administrator of the Macon-Bibb County Health Department. The organization CORE also provided the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines, and several Mercer University student volunteers helped set up and execute this event. Our main goal was to educate people on the vaccine and provide a convenient spot to receive a dose. This event also demonstrated the possibility of progress that can be made by coming together as a community.

Each of the speakers’ perspectives illustrated the dire situation with the current pandemic. Many common concerns were addressed, including the history in medicine involving the Tuskegee Experiment, vaccine safety, and vaccine efficacy.

Dr. Smith summarized these concerns, “I’m not worried about catching coronavirus. I’m worried about people dying from it. 99.8% of U.S. deaths are of the unvaccinated. If you heard of an airline of that percentage dying, whereas a 0.02% on another, you’re switching flights. Get on the vaccine flight. Our minority communities are being disproportionately affected, and we are doing a disservice by not getting the vaccine. Our history has scared us, but we cannot let that stop us from protecting ourselves now.”

One audience member, Ruby Roberts, also stepped forward and shared her battle with coronavirus last Summer. “I thought I was going to die,” Ms. Roberts said somberly after a pause. “My grandchildren would call crying every night, begging me to come back home to them. Every moment I spend with them now, I thank God. That is why I quickly got my vaccine,” she continued passionately. “Don’t let ignorance cause you to die. It’s not worth it.”

Speakers at a town hall and vaccine clinic on September 11 in Macon, Georgia: Stephanie Howard, Dr. Bonzo Reddick and Dr. Cheryl Gaddis of Mercer University, and Dr. Jimmie Smith, administrator of the Macon-Bibb County Health Department. (Photo: Komal Gandhi)

 

Each story painted a picture of the realities of the pandemic. One depiction especially resonated with me. The average length of a casket is 84 inches. The U.S. has had 650,000 deaths, giving 841 miles of caskets end to end. That is about the length of Texas. I remember hearing the murmurs of dismay from the audience after hearing this. “When is enough, enough?” I heard someone whisper.

“The vaccine is a push from God. God has given has the knowledge to protect ourselves, and we have to take advantage of this gift,” Dr. Reddick concluded. Even behind their masks, I could tell on the audience members’ faces that the speakers’ words had sparked a renewed sense of urgency and understanding.

History has shown how citizens can come together and collaborate to confront issues. I feel we are laying the groundwork for the necessary collective action regarding the pandemic. Now is the time to come together to save ourselves and our communities from this virus.

 

Komal Gandhi, right, of Sugar Hill, Georgia, is a sophomore Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. (Photo: Darlene Flaming)

 

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.