Salt Lake County taking COVID vaccines to Black churches, mosques to reach wary minority communities

Officials hope the locations will build trust among underserved populations.

(Photo courtesy of Calvary Baptist Church) The Rev. Oscar Moses, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The church is being used as a vaccination center to reach Black congregants.

COVID-19 vaccinations have been given in at least one Salt Lake County church and soon may be offered at several other religious sites — especially those serving minority communities.

Calvary Baptist Church, one of Salt Lake City’s oldest and most prominent Black congregations, gave 85 doses Monday and will do more starting March 1, when the age for eligible recipients drops to 65. Officials hope to have enough vaccine supply to offer them twice weekly.

The Point Church, a multicultural Baptist meetinghouse in Kearns, is in conversation with the Salt Lake County Health Department to begin offering vaccinations March 1.

The county also has approved the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City as a vaccination site starting March 5, and a second to-be-determined Muslim mosque by March 19.

In all these cases, the shots are administered by a roving team of health department nurses, said Caroline Moreno, the COVID-19 equitable access manager for the county, who are working with these neighborhood clinics.

“The partner is the one who registers people but through the county system,” Moreno said. “We are engaging these partners to be in the religious communities.”

This is being done partly to help overcome resistance to the vaccine among some populations.

“It is essential to provide a sense of trust for African Americans and other minority communities,” Calvary Pastor Oscar Moses said Tuesday. “Some are hesitant because of the history of medical mistreatment of Blacks.”

He pointed to an infamous Tuskegee study of syphilis in Black men, which was conducted without their consent.

Such occurrences have made some of his congregants justifiably “skeptical” about government treatment, Moses said. “We don’t know what’s in this vaccine, but we know that some African American chemists worked on the vaccine.”

His congregants trust God “more than the government right now,” he said, “and pray this will be the right answer for all of us.”

The Rev. Corey Hodges of The Point Church echoes that sentiment.

“This virus is affecting minority communities disproportionately,” Hodges said. “It is important for influencers in these communities to speak in support of vaccinations. These influencers include Black pastors, health care professionals, educators, scientists and athletes.”

The preacher believes Black churches “can lead the way in building confidence in the vaccination process and safety.”

But the state’s Islamic population might be even tougher, said Luna Banuri, executive director of Utah Muslim Civic League.

Despite the efforts of a Muslim public health committee, she said, “our community had a lot of barriers for our over 70 members.”

There are “clear and persistent fears around vaccinations,” she said, which is why Banuri’s group has launched its own vaccination education program “to try and convince the Muslim population that vaccinations are safe.”

They’ve had Zoom meetings with Somali and Bosnian women to answer their questions and hope to expand their outreach.

“Even convincing some of the imams has been challenging,” Banuri said. “Unless these religious leaders take a stand, it’s going to be very difficult.”