“The best way to handle fear is through faith.”
Reverend Dr. Steve Bland of Liberty Temple Baptist Church said those words during a recent interview with the Michigan Chronicle about the hesitant who aren’t ready to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bland, president of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and the Vicinity, is familiar with the vaccine-hesitant – many of whom he and other pastors have helped guide through the COVID-19 vaccination process by praying for them and even standing by their side as some received their first shot.
Bland said that the spring call to action for the return to school by the Fall for Detroit’s teachers and students was energizing. In May, Bland and the pastors teamed up at his church on Greenfield Road in Detroit and during a press conference spread the word about the importance of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) students and staff receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging in-person learning before schools opened in the fall.
Bland told the Michigan Chronicle that the “key message” of getting the community vaccinated is still important today.
Congregants and community members are hearing that message, and it’s resonating within them during this campaign, as 1,461 people in 10 weeks were vaccinated and over 15,000 COVID tests were taken.
Bland said that the campaign, with the help of the Michigan National Guard, was a “tremendous help” to track every vaccine, test and beyond through 66 churches working together in total, 50 of which are in Detroit proper.
“We provided them resources to help keep them going and moving and have the successful capacity to do that.”
Bland said that the reason for going so hard during the campaign was simply done by going back to the harsh reality of why it all began.
“Back when we first started the initiative dealing with…COVID-19 — ravaging the community for the past year,” he said, adding that the Black community was the hardest hit. “We were concerned about the issue and fear already prevalent in our community given the virus itself and mistrust.
“We began to have to deal with how we dispel a lot of the issues,” Bland said of deeply engrained mistrusts in the Black community like the Tuskegee experiment which watched the effects of untreated syphilis in the body. “At our initial challenge, we pushed people to get the vaccine, and all the persons who wanted to get it did respond; I think in a significant way.”
Bland said that the campaign worked with the TCF Center, among other locations, during this past spring and people were encouraged to get vaccinations at the pop-up clinics at various churches that vaccinated 200 to 300 people, and at times, upwards of 500 people regularly.
“Then it slowed down tremendously around late spring/early summer and it became apparent that the slowdown had to deal with … the remaining population who were vaccine-hesitant,” Bland said, adding that this crowd presented a new “challenge.”
As of early October, federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 78 percent of the adult population in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“While this achievement has led to steep declines in COVID-19 cases and deaths, vaccination coverage—and the protections provided by it—remains uneven across the country,” according to CDC statistics. “With the continued spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, unvaccinated people remain at increased risk for infection, illness and death.”
Other statistics from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that in October, white people made up the largest share (60 percent) of unvaccinated people, and Black and Hispanic people are less likely than their white counterparts to have gotten a vaccine. However, the data show that these disparities are narrowing over time.”
Bland said that the campaign (which used common-sense messages from clergy members) to say that the vaccine is a lifesaving measure is not slowing down just yet.
On tap next for the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and the Vicinity is to see if they want to take on the vaccine booster campaign by assisting people who need the booster shot and also to see if eligible children (ages 5-11) could be added to the list of people receiving vaccines.
“As long as the community needs our help to help with accessibility, we will likely continue,” Bland said adding that the neighborhood church is a cornerstone in more ways than one. “This campaign helps us take the vaccine to the neighborhoods [as a] trusted voice.”