Interfaith ‘Vaccine Ambassadors’ Take Up Biden’s Month Of Action

(AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin)

(RNS) — With collaboration and support from civic and community leaders across the country, President Joe Biden recently announced a “Month of Action” between June 4 and July 4, with the goal to increase vaccination rates to 70% of American adults before July Fourth.

At Interfaith Youth Core, the Month of Action could not have come at a better time. IFYC has been working throughout the spring with civic organizations, colleges and universities, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to train 2,000 people from diverse faith backgrounds to engage in vaccine outreach in their religious communities. 

These Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors, as we call them, are based on the community health worker model, proven to be effective from Haiti to Bangladesh, and are trained to engage people through their religious and ethnic communities.  

IFYC’s core belief is that religiously diverse communities are foundational to America’s strength and that working together, these communities have incredible potential to advance the common good. These racially and religiously diverse young leaders are giving us much-needed hope right now.

When we win in our battle against the virus, it will be because of people like a young Indian Hindu in Los Angeles messaging 10 people in his network who have expressed skepticism about the vaccine, offering experience he thinks will be comforting to them. Or an African American Muslim in Chicago organizing an event at her mosque for congregants who want to know if the Prophet Muhammad would have encouraged the vaccine. 

Or a white evangelical Christian in rural Minnesota who is creating an online discussion board so people in his network can discuss Curtis Chang’s videos about the Bible and the vaccine.  

Person-to-person engagement matters most as we enter the long, last mile of our fight against COVID-19. Indeed, the current work is not principally about mass vaccination centers, which are closing by the day. Instead, it’s about trusted messengers reaching skeptical, uninformed, or reasonably concerned people through trusted channels.

These trusted messengers offer a valuable touchpoint, including a listening, sympathetic ear to understand concerns, simple but accurate scientific information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, and often, values-based inspiration about the importance of receiving it. 

“Vaccine Acceptance, Hesitancy, and Refusal, by Religious Affiliation” Graphic courtesy of PRRI-IFYC

“Vaccine Acceptance, Hesitancy, and Refusal, by Religious Affiliation” Graphic courtesy of PRRI-IFYC

Recent data from a rigorous survey that IFYC conducted with PRRI indicates that this type of engagement is precisely what’s needed now. Some 26% of all vaccine-hesitant Americans say that faith-based approaches, such as attending an information session held in a church or hearing that a fellow congregant received the vaccine, would motivate them to consider receiving it themselves.

That number jumps to 33% for vaccine-hesitant African American and Hispanic Protestants, and to nearly 50% for vaccine-hesitant white evangelicals who attend church regularly. 

This is the type of relational engagement that IFYC and all of our partners and ambassadors will be doing as part of the White House’s Month of Action. But for us the work will go beyond this coming month. We will continue until the end of the summer when we hope we have reached a point where the people in our country, especially the most vulnerable, are protected against the virus that has caused such profound sorrow and loss.  

In moments of great adversity, our country can come together. People of all different religious traditions and worldviews can work across our differences for the common good. Please consider this your invitation to join us and the wider Month of Action.

Here are four things you can do this month, no matter what faith or no faith tradition you are a part of: 

  1. Download IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine playbook and get a basic overview of how to get involved, including learning how to hold a townhall in your community.
  2. Get trained on impactful vaccine outreach techniques using IFYC’s Faith in the Vaccine training resources.
  3. Talk to five friends or family members and share your work back with the White House.
  4. Get connected with a national vaccine phone banking or text banking session if you don’t know anyone who needs personal outreach.

At the conclusion of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893, Charles Bonney proclaimed, “From now on, the great religions of the world will make war no longer on each other, and instead on the giant ills that afflict humankind.” The Biden-Harris Month of Action is an opportunity for people of all faiths to come together and stand up against the great ill that has afflicted our nation for the past 18 months.

As Biden said in his launch speech, “We know it for a fact — Americans can do anything when we do it together.”

(Eboo Patel is president of Interfaith Youth Core. Mary Ellen Giess is IFYC’s vice president for strategic initiatives, and Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is senior adviser for public affairs. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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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.