In communities of color, religious leaders step up to help get people vaccinated

Community leaders in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are bridging the distrust people within their cities have with government and health institutions
9:20 | 04/01/21

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Transcript for In communities of color, religious leaders step up to help get people vaccinated
All right, guys. We'll get started in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. I know lord, god -- Reporter: A prayer for To our community and bless our departure in the name of the father and the son and the holy spirit and amen. Reporter: As today this group goes door to door, preaching the gospel of health. I want to know if you're interested in getting the vaccine? So that we can try to get you the vaccine -- Reporter: Father Paul Abernathy, his team at the neighborhood of resilience project trying to convince residents in this predominantly black and underserved community in Pittsburgh to get vaccinated. You're a priest. Your job is not to get people vaccinated. If we are going to preach the gospel, it isn't with words by which we will preach it most loudly, but it is with action. Reporter: Covid-19 is the latest trauma to rip through father Paul's neighborhood. One that has long been plagued by poverty and gun violence. It's perhaps these old wounds which in part help explain why father Paul says he's met with a great deal of resistance as he tries to sign people up for a covid-19 shot. Are you interested in getting the vaccine? Uh-uh. No? Uh-uh. Reporter: Mistrust of the vaccine in this neighborhood is common. I know there's lots of concerns, right? Yeah. I know. It's like it's the antichrist or some . I'm wearing a collar and I'm concerned about those things too. What I would say is, what is very important is that god is a god of life. Yeah. This is very important. And sometimes when we pray, there's -- he gives us blessing by way of medicine. By way of vaccines. Hypothetically speaking, I go over, I try -- What we can also do is take your name and phone number, if you like, to put you on a waiting list. Reporter: As the vaccine rollout continues to expand, the CDC reports that communities of color, including black Americans, are getting vaccinated at disproportionately lower rates than white Americans. Father Paul says he believes that's due to these communities having less access to the vaccine, and for some, a hesitancy to trust the institutions that have created and encouraged it. There's a history of government systems in our community that have failed, or sometimes been overtly oppressive. The second would be a history of clinical abuse. That people have in not only their family history, but also in their lived experiences. Reporter: Therefore, he believes that trusted faith leaders should step in and step up to help boost vaccine confidence. Hi, how are you doing? I'm not too sure about it. How it's going to affect my body, my system. I'm not, no. I understand. You care what happens to you, I we want to validate those concerns that are absolutely legitimate. I don't want nothing happening to my body. Yeah, we respect that. We respect that. We want -- that's what we really want, we want what's best for you. We also want to say, at the same time, although there have been historical challenges, historical injustices, this has to be a time where really we try to forge a new way forward. This work moves you? Yes, this work moves me. And more importantly, it is all of the brokenhearted prayers that are uttered day and night in our community that moves me. You can understand how our folk have suffered a long time with abuse from the medical field. Reporter: Dunn served as tuskegee, Alabama's, first female mayor. It was here the infamous syphilis study took place. Where the U.S. Government recruited hundreds of black men to participate in the study of the effects of untreated syphilis, while simultaneously withholding the cure and the true nature of the study. Mayor Dunn says beyond that period in history are centuries of institutional inequality, and it's one of the reasons why she herself is hesitant to get vaccinated. It's not that I'm not ever going to take the vaccine. I just believe that we haven't had enough time to successfully develop the vaccine that's going to cure and/or prevent the coronavirus. Reporter: Although the vaccines were developed and authorized within a year, the testing process for safety did not skip any steps. The technology used to make them had been in development for years. Explain to me how you thread that needle. A highly educated, successful woman, but yet you're hesitant about the vaccination. Does that send a mixed message to the folk you serve? No. Because I'm quite frank about it. What I am not saying to people is that, you got to follow me along that pathway. But I want to say this, too. Racism is not dead. I mean, that's a legitimate concern in our community. And it has nothing to do with the syphilis study. Because a lot of people want to put all of this off, the reason black people are feeling this way is because of the syphilis study. No, it's not. It's about a whole lot of different things that's been passed down from great great grandmothers all the way down to me. Reporter: But mistrust of the health care system is only part of the story. A recent NPR analysis found that vaccine science, particularly across the south, were largely missing from predominantly black and brown communities. This point to a lack of access, one of the reasons why black churches across the country paired up with clinics to not just bridge the mistrust gap, but to expand vaccine accessibility. Those who desire to take the vaccine, they will not have to walk far. Hi, I'm the pastor of the church, how are you feeling? Reporter: Bishop John borders is pastor of morning star Baptist church, located in a predominantly black neighborhood on the south side of Boston. He has turned his house of worship into a house of healing, both spiritual and physical. How do you feel, do you feel all right? Yes, thank you so much. Reporter: His church has partnered with Boston medical center to offer covid vaccinations to community members. When you ask them to come out to Gillette stadium or something like that, to take a vaccine, you're not going to receive much of a response. But when they know they can go to their house of worship and find trained, skilled people working in collaboration with their spiritual and religious leaders, there's a level of trust that they develop, and people are lining up to take the vaccine. Reporter: Borders has been a pastor at this church for almost 40 years. I first met him in the early '90s when he had another crisis on his hands. In 1992, we were right in the midst of gang violence in Boston. Violence among gangs went down to zero for five to ten years as result of the work that we did here with local clergy. Reporter: Now he and his colleagues are coming togher to face the latest crisis, covid. My heart breaks when I hear that members have passed away. Without a funeral. That's heartbreaking. So I'm looking for a time when we can have funerals again. And we can have weddings again. And that will not happen unless everyone takes the vaccine. Reporter: The program which launched in mid-february has so far administered 5,300 doses. Iidn't shed a tear. I'm glad things are busy and robust today. Reporter: He credits the program's success to its partnership with Boston medical center and its doctors. Like Thea James. At my hospital, the majority of our patients reside in communities that have been historically disinvested. They're using their resources to maintain some sort of stable housing, to buy food for their families, to pay for utilities. And so there's nothing really left over to use for prioritizing health. Reporter: For Dr. James, bishop border, mayor Dunn, and father Abernathy, this moment in our nation's history is about so much more than getting shots in arms. It's about injecting newfound trust, dignity, and resources into a community's bloodstream, long anemic by inequality generations old. Takes a lot to undo that narrative. For "Othering" people. And so it's not extremely complex and complicated. But it requires intentionality to be able to address it and to disrupt it. Because until that happens, we can't expect that the data will ever change.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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