SAN BERNARDINO, Calif .– While lying in an emergency bed after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in December, Pastor Reverend Steven Shepard often closed his eyes and prayed.
Shepard prayed not only for himself but also for those in the same situation suffering from the highly contagious respiratory illness.
Shepard explained that he felt like he was on the brink of death.
âEveryone around me was dying,â Shepard said. âYou can hear the people next door or across the hall and hear their nurses say, ‘We have to call the family. “”
So Shepard prayed when a patient was recovering or a new patient arrived, and he prayed more when he heard the nurses having to make that terrible call to a family member.
âThere were a lot of prayers for me and the others that were there, strangers that I didn’t know because we were united under a banner of ‘we are trying to fight this and beat this COVID so we can get home. home in our families, âhe said. “If I had to die, I didn’t want to die in the hospital with it. If I had to die, I would be surrounded by my loved ones, my family and my friends.”
After a week in the emergency room at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, Shepard was released. But the experience of being in the hospital and suffering from COVID-19 was a moment of humility for Shepard, who was reluctant to vaccinate like many African Americans, as he explained.
Once out, Shepard made it his mission to learn about the vaccine and spread the word to his parishioners at St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in San Bernardino.
Like some COVID-19 vaccine resistant seeking religious exemptions from the growing list of places requiring a vaccine to enter or in the workplace, Shepard and other religious leaders are spreading the word about the importance of getting the vaccine.
Shepard isn’t the only religious leader to preach the importance of the vaccine to his followers. For almost a year, religious leaders and other religious leaders – from Pope Francis, Islamic religious institutions and from Jewish leaders to Christian pastors – did statements about the safety and moral validity of the vaccine.
“[Church Teaching makes] it is clear that at the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there is no alternative, and there is a serious risk to health â, according to to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some resistance fighters believe that the blow is the so-called mark of the beast, which signals the end of the world in the Bible. Shepard rejected these allegations.
âThose of us who have the Christian faith, if we believe that God can heal, then we must also believe that he can heal through physicians, science and the vaccine,â he said. “I believe it wholeheartedly.”
Shepard understands that it’s not just religious objections that get in the way when he preaches about the vaccine to the black and African American community that makes up his parishioners. Health officials have said that African Americans rightly have serious trust issues with government and the health care system.
“Black people have been abused by the medical system for as long as we have been in this country,” said Dr Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer of Watts Healthcare Corp., on a recent conference call on hesitation and fear. vaccines in Africa. American community.
Brooks pointed out several examples.
âTo come back to the slaves, the northern medical schools in fact came and invaded and took bodies out of slave cemeteries [in the South] and brought their bodies back to medical school to be used as corpses for their anatomy classes, âBrooks said. âBy the turn of the 20th century, black women had forced sterilization in the South and other areasâ¦ and we all know about the public health service experience in Alabama regarding syphilis. “
There are many other documented examples, as Brooks explained, adding that when discussing vaccine reluctance in the black and African American community, distrust of the medical system is valid and not. should not be ruled out.
Yet black and African American residents are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. According to the LA Times, Blacks in Los Angeles have the highest hospitalization rate of any racial and ethnic group in the county. They also have the lowest vaccination rate among racial and ethnic groups.
Brooks therefore said it was essential to align with trusted messengers and repeat the same message on the safety of the COVID vaccine. Health experts on the conference call said the black church plays a vital role in disseminating information.
âHistorically, the black church has served as an epicenter for bringing about positive change,â Shepard said.
Like many African Americans, Shepard was also hesitant to vaccinate, admitting he was very wary of the healthcare system.
âLike most blacks in America, I couldn’t get past the Tuskegee experience and the forced sterilization of black women,â he said. “We were used as guinea pigs. I didn’t want to be a guinea pig and end up being a statistic.”
But when Shepard was released from the hospital after his battle with COVID in December, he did his research. He consulted with African-American doctors and pharmacists on the safety of the vaccine. He learned that a African American female scientist in Moderna was one of the main players in the development of the vaccine.
âI was so interested in what happened in the past,â Shepard said. “I didn’t take the time to study the science behind the vaccine.”
Shepard openly shares his story with his parishioners at St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church.
âI tell them I was like them. I had problems and hesitation due to past and present medical mistrust, but once I did my research for myself, it did all the work. difference in the world, âhe said. âI want to be an example for others,â he added. “I got the hang of it. No one is stalking me. I am not trying to have children, but I doubt that I am sterile and I am not going to turn into a zombie.”
The church has also partnered with local health agencies in San Bernardino to public service announcements spread the word.
âWe want to make sure our community has the right information,â he said. “What happened in the past we should not forget, but neither should we be concerned. They can come to a place they trust to make it easier for them. We all sing the song. same song. We want to bring hope, health and healing to a community that needs a vaccine because we are the community that suffers the most. “