KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Mt. Zion Baptist Church had more people in its halls Thursday than it has since last March, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan.
The church opened its doors to 500 people to receive the vaccine, as part of the county public health department's weekly out clinic.
"It means a great deal, particularly in the climate which we're living, where we know that Blacks are adversely affected by the disease," said Dr. Addis Moore, pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Moore and other church staff helped to get hundreds of people from Mt. Zion's predominantly Black congregation to register for the vaccine.
"It's important that this vaccine is actually made available in the areas where the people most adversely affected are," Moore said.
Michigan has not yet posted data on COVID-19 vaccinations by race/ethnicity, but a state health department spokesperson said those numbers would be posted soon. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black Michigan residents at staggering rates.
"We really need to be mindful of trying to get into our communities, and not expect that everybody can come to the Expo Center," said Kalamazoo County Public Health Department's health officer Jim Rutherford.
Rutherford said the department is strained by the number of vaccines it receives each week, but the plan is to hold clinics outside of the Expo Center once a week.
As president of the Northside Ministerial Alliance, Moore has been working with dozens of other churches to get the word out about vaccinations.
For Thursday's clinic, most people were contacted directly by the church about registering for the vaccine as oppose to using online registration.
Among those to receive the shot was two of the most senior members of the congregation, Annie Lewis, who is 100 years old, and William Hodge, who is 101 years old.
Lewis was accompanied by her daughter, Virginia Jackson, who also received the vaccine.
"She said she would be glad to get the vaccine so she could show everybody else it's no harm in getting the vaccine," Jackson said.
Hodge joked that he didn't even know he got the vaccine.
"What shot? They gave me a shot? I didn't feel a thing. Am I supposed to feel anything?" he said with a laugh.
His son Vincent Hodge said he was relieved to see his father get it.
"Definitely, a relief," Vincent Hodge said. "Better safe than sorry, that's all there is to it."
Seeing Lewis and Hodge receive their shots marked a historic moment in Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Moore said.
"When we say we're celebrating Black history, we're seeing history being made by individuals, and so I'm excited about that," Moore said. "Just the fact that it's in the African American community, and you've got the health department here, you've got individuals that's actually paying attention to the people that we say we value."
Moore said he's hopeful for future clinics as there's already several hundred people on a wait list. He's hopeful that in hosting clinics at the church and with other community partners, the healthcare industry can work to rebuild trust that it's eroded.
"Unless systems and methods change, we'll never reach the people that we say we want to reach," he said. "If the health systems and hospitals are not utilizing people that African Americans trust— the trust factor will never go up."
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.