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Effort To Vaccinate People In Baltimore County Shifting To Neighborhoods

Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt
John Lee
Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, Senior Pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church

Forty-four percent of Baltimore County’s residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The challenge now is to convince those who are hesitating to get the vaccine.

One predominantly Black church in the county is taking steps to get people in its congregation and neighborhood vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the county held a COVID vaccine clinic inside Epworth United Methodist Chapel in Lochearn.

As people from the neighborhood were trickling in, the Reverend Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, the senior pastor, said he hoped as many as 200 people would come to get shots. Lochearn, inside the beltway near the city line, is an older community, Hunt said.

“There are many persons who have mobility issues and so they may not have been able to stand in line at some of the mass vaccination sites that the state set up,” Hunt said.

People also tell him they are waiting to see if the vaccine works safely for others. Some don’t trust the science.

“Even with the higher morbidity rate with COVID-19 among people of color, brown and black people at around three times the rate for those who are hospitalized with serious COVID-19, many people see that as just a sign that the health care system is not in the favor of many people of color,” Hunt said.

That’s where Brenda Thompson comes in.

“I’m the CIO,” Thompson said. “That’s the Coronavirus Information Officer. That was given to me by one of the members of the church.”

Thompson is a retired nurse practitioner and oversees the Sunday briefing. Since last March, the first few minutes of the service, which is conducted via Zoom, have been used to give the latest facts and dispel myths about COVID.

“I decided I was going to get someone in to talk with the congregation,” Thompson said. “Because it was so busy at that time, I wasn’t able to get anyone in. So, the pastor asked me if I would be willing to do it. And so, like the soldier that I am I said yes.”

Fourteen months later, Thompson is still doing it.

“I’ve had a number of people saying, ‘oh I heard you last Sunday say come to the church between 4 and 7. You need to come and get your vaccine.’ And so yes, it has made a difference. Our congregants have been so interested.”

When the vaccine first became available, the challenge was meeting the demand from people who really wanted it. Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch said now it’s about convincing those people who are on the bubble to get the vaccine.

Branch said, “They’re not saying no but they’re like, ‘uh, I’m not too sure,’ and those folks who may need the trusted community organization or faith-based organization to get their vaccine, we want to get to those people.”

They got Michael Vaughn at the Epworth Chapel clinic.

“My aunt actually set up everything for me today, and I want to thank her to death, my Aunt Carla,” Vaughn said. “She came through for me, set everything up, and it was a nice, smooth process too.”

The neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach is challenging. Baltimore County Health Department spokeswoman Elyn Garrett-Jones said on the busiest day at its mass vaccination site in Timonium, April 17, more than 5,200 people got a shot. That compares to 665 people the county has vaccinated in the last month using the vaccination van it rolled out in late April.

Meanwhile the Rev. Hunt said he is being cautious about when they will reopen the sanctuary for Sunday service partly because his wife is a registered nurse.

Hunt said, “I’ve seen her on the front lines every day going to work and praying that she and other health care professionals will stay alive.”

He said they plan to survey the congregation about whether they feel it’s safe to return.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2