Augusta University, churches working together to build vaccine trust in Black community

RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. — Even with Georgia vaccination numbers increasing every day, there are still many people hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, especially in minority communities.

Channel 2′s Mark Winne traveled to Augusta and learned how leaders there are embracing the challenge and succeeding with the help of churches.

[SPECIAL SECTION: COVID-19 Vaccine in Georgia]

Augusta University Health System officials say the vaccination site at Broadway Baptist Church is part of a strategy to ensure the area’s Black community is getting a fair share of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The numbers show it’s working in a way others might want to copy.

“We’ve had a very targeted and intentional effort to make certain we are providing equal access and opportunity for people in communities of color to be vaccinated,” said Augusta University Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phillip Coule.

Broadway Baptist Church Pastor Anthony Booker says having the AUH in for a vaccine event at his church is a product of a partnership between pastors and the system.

“The writer said that God is concerned not only about our spiritual health, not just our financial health but our physical health,” Booker said. “I think AU’s having great success because they’re partnered with local pastors.”

“What did you tell your congregation about the vaccine?” Winne asked.

“Take it,” the pastor replied. “In our community, they may not trust the science, trust doctors, but they may trust the pastors more than what they hear the government saying or local leaders.”

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Coule has worked with Black pastors like Booker from large and influential churches. The AUH has hosted vaccination clinics in locations that are predominantly Black.

Coule said the numbers suggest this and other partnerships are working.

“Our percentage of the vaccines that goes into the arms of Black and African Americans is about 37%,” Coule told Winne. “So when you compare that to the statewide it appears to be about 18% based on the state’s data.”

Coule indicated in the state data there are many people whose ethnicity is unidentified. Coule said Richmond County, which includes Augusta, is about 55% African American, but AUH covers some predominantly white areas too.

“You believe you’re far outpacing the state average?” Winne asked.

“We do,” Coule said.

Coule told Winne that sites such as Broadway Baptist, which are open to any eligible Georgian, are supported with a pair of $1 million grants from Augusta National Golf Club and a local community foundation.

Augusta National has donated the use of a building for a mass vaccination hub that earned AUH a recent shoutout from Gov. Brian Kemp.

“Parts of the state where quite honestly we haven’t had to do mass vaccination sites because like Augusta University is doing such a good job,” the governor said.

AUH official Joshua Wyche said AUH has done 1,600 shots in one day at the mass vaccination site and planned to do 2,200 doses Thursday. If Georgia got enough vaccine and passed enough to AUH, it could do 3,000 doses some days.

“We want people to have education to be empowered to ultimately make the right decision for themselves,” Wyche said.

People can sign up for their COVID-19 vaccines on the AUH website, which instantly confirms their appointment and fill out their consent forms in advance which is key.

“You had church staff registering people on line who may not be so computer conversant? seniors?” Winne asked Booker.

“Correct. My grandmother, for example, knows nothing about computers, so my mom did it for her,” Booker said.

Coule said as Georgia’s vaccine allocation grows, he expects his system will be able to handle all they can get efficiently and help save even more lives.

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