Henrico and Richmond launch faith-based pilot program, vaccinate 2,000 seniors in underrepresented populations in three days


HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A new faith-based vaccination program has been initiated by Henrico County and Richmond City leaders to identify underrepresented populations who need information on how to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The leaders are working with faith-based partners to reach out to their congregations to identify those 65 years or older in underserved areas.

The program uses vulnerability indexes like poverty and race to identify underrepresented populations like Black and brown people.

On Thursday at Richmond Raceway, the pilot vaccination event began as the Virginia Department of Health allocated two thousand vaccines specifically for the program.

Monica Smith-Callahan, Henrico’s Deputy County Manager, said people in underrepresented communities often respond better when reached out about the vaccine by their trusted pastors and faith leaders rather than a government organization.

“The vaccine has disproportionately administered to those population groups,” Smith-Callahan said. “With this pilot program, reaching out to the faith community gave us an opportunity to partner with trusted entities with seniors over 65 for an opportunity. That is different than if the government reaches out to you.”

Tyrone Nelson, a local pastor and Henrico Board of Supervisor member, said his church was of those that were identified to participate in the program.

“The map identifies certain churches and my church was one of those that were identified,” Nelson said. “I found out 90% of my members either want the shot or have had the shot. 29% of Henrico’s residents are black. As of last Wednesday, only 14% of them had received the vaccine.”

Ernest Parker was one of those who received the vaccine on Wednesday.

“I feel fantastic,” Parker said. “A lot of pastors have stepped up and got a mixture of people. And like a gumbo, it’s a good soup when it’s mixed. When it is just one race, whether it is black or white, that’s not right. But the disadvantaged are now being served properly.”

Charles Mason also received the first dose of the vaccine at Richmond Raceway on Wednesday, and he said he was trying to get the shot for a long time until his pastor reached out to him.

“I believe they should reach out to as many communities as possible,” Mason said. “It is great to have someone to reach out to us. I am just happy to be here to get my shot.”

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