San Bernardino County logo“We will all suffer if we do not work together.” This was the honest and succinct observation shared by Rev. Steven Shepard, leader of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Bernardino, at a press conference on Friday announcing a partnership between the County, Loma Linda University Health and two faith-based groups representing African American churches.

San Bernardino County is expanding its partnership with Inland Empire Concerned African American Churches (IECAAC) and Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (C.O.P.E.) to substantially increase vaccination rates in the local African American community. Mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be hosted this month at churches throughout the county.

Rev. Samuel Casey, executive director of C.O.P.E., says that he and other religious leaders are working hard to convince members of the Black community to overcome any reluctance to get vaccinated for COVID-19. He believes churches can play a crucial role in this effort for one simple reason: they’ve earned trust in the community.

“Usually, when county officials engage communities of color, the expert never looks like the people they are talking to,” Rev. Casey said. “You need trusted voices from within those communities to explain these things. When Black faith leaders speak, the community will listen.”

Last June, the County Department of Public Health, along with Loma Linda University Health, began teaming with IECAAC to expand access to free COVID-19 testing to help reduce the spread of the disease and keep African American community members safe. DPH and LLUH are now working with these same churches to establish mobile vaccination clinics at trusted sites in their local communities.

“So far we’ve administered vaccines to almost 270,000 residents and we’re committed to vaccinating everyone in our county,” said County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “However, the percentage of African American residents who have been vaccinated is well below their overall percentage of the population, so we are taking steps to overcome that disparity. We want to make sure that no one is left behind or unable to access the medical care they need.”

If it weren’t for mobile vaccination clinics and Black congregations working to bring them into their communities, many African Americans in the county would lack access to vaccines, said the Rev. Shepard. He said he was pleased that public health officials and hospitals are reaching out to help underserved communities.

“My hope is that this partnership will bring a better day for our community and healing, which we all need,” Rev. Shepard said.

Some community members who have already received a vaccination are encouraging others to get inoculated.

“My first shot went pretty smooth. There was no after effect,” said Ensley Howell in an interview broadcast by NBC Los Angeles. Howell says he’s looking forward to his second shot, and he’s hoping others will also get vaccinated. “It’s vital for us to get back to a normal life. We need it,” he said.

Churches scheduled to have visits by the mobile clinic include Burning Bush Church, Juniper Ave/ New Life Christian, Ecclesia Christian Fellowship, Life Changing Ministries, 16th St Seventh Day Adventist Church, Loveland Fontana, Transformation Church, and Immanuel Praise Fellowship.