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St. Joseph’s/Candler, local churches plan to educate and distribute COVID vaccine to underserved

Feb 17, 2021

St. Joseph’s/Candler has begun working with churches and faith leaders in Savannah to create points of distribution to vaccinate the underserved and to make sure the community has key information to address misconceptions about the vaccine.

“Simply, we want to be sensitive and address any barriers to getting the vaccine for communities who are traditionally underserved or have had a harder time getting healthcare. This is at the core of our mission,” said Paul P. Hinchey, President & CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler. “We’ve seen throughout this pandemic that it has disproportionately affected underserved communities and this coalition is going to fight that.”

Working closely with Georgia State Rep. Carl Gilliard and an advisory group of 10 local faith leaders, a plan is in place to engage church congregations in underserved communities with information about the safety of the vaccine to address fears and concerns about obtaining the vaccine. St. Joseph’s/Candler will then work with the advisory group to determine distribution points for those participating churches.

“This is a wake-up call for us as a community,” said Rep. Gilliard. “We remember those who weren’t at our tables during this past holiday season and we know that we have to do something to alleviate this virus. I’m elated that we’ve come together to focus on what we can do to do get this vaccine to communities who need it, especially the underserved and minorities. They have been disproportionately affected during this pandemic.

It is my hope that this partnership of St. Joseph’s/Candler and the faith-based community is a model for the state and the nation. I am grateful that St. Joseph’s/Candler would take the lead on this and involve the faith-based community to amplify their voice.”

St. Joseph’s/Candler has been meeting with faith leaders since the beginning of January to get feedback on barriers to access and to learn about perceptions and concerns of their congregations that may prevent individuals from wanting the vaccine. With this input, a plan was developed and the group is beginning to operationalize the plan.  

The vaccine education portion of this plan will begin sometime in March.  St. Joseph’s/Candler and Representative Gilliard are collaborating with local officials at the Department of Public Health on vaccine procurement. However, the vaccine distribution schedule for participating churches will be contingent upon when the state’s tiered roll out plan for distribution to underserved communities is enacted.  In the meantime, the health department will assist with providing vaccine to approximately 1,000 individuals in underserved communities who are 65+ through locations identified by the advisory group.

“We have very supportive leadership at our local Department of Public Health,” Hinchey said. “When Representative Gilliard and I called Dr. Lawton Davis and told him what we wanted to do, he immediately offered his help and assistance.  In fact, he said, let me help you get started right away with some vaccine for underserved individuals who are 65+ while you prepare for a roll out for the larger underserved community.  He told us if we could get the locations, DPH would get the resources and vaccine right away.”

As part of its mission, St. Joseph’s/Candler has been committed to helping the underserved since it’s inception. Through programs like the St. Mary’s Health Center, St. Mary’s Community Center and Good Samaritan Clinic, people who are uninsured and underinsured can be connected with a medical home and receive the ongoing preventative care that is critical to closing the gap in disparities in health care outcomes.  Working with local faith leaders to connect underserved communities with vaccine is an extension of that vital mission.

“For decades St. Joseph’s/Candler has worked to break down health disparities that the underserved in our community face,” Hinchey said. “We are committed to ensuring that no person is left out due to lack of access to the vaccine.  That means rolling up our sleeves and figuring out a way to get to those individuals who may not have the means to get the vaccine, for whatever reason. That could be lack of transportation, limited healthcare access or simply fear. Traditionally, the church home has been a source of information, support and trust for individuals in underserved areas.  We’re starting there and with the support and leadership of the 9 pastors on our advisory board and Representative Gilliard, we know we can have an impact.” 

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