Faith-based leaders have been vital in sharing and promoting COVID-19 vaccination among their community members. As part of Esperanza’s Our Voices, Our Vaccines project, Pastor David Medina, Pastor Efrain Cotto, and Pastor Gilbert Alfaro have played a key role in developing new health materials and serving as advocates to promote vaccine equity in Hunting Park and in the surrounding North Philadelphia communities. Despite their busy schedules and various responsibilities at their churches and ministries, they have continued to help people who are experiencing homelessness, they host bible study events for young people, and preach at services every week. Additionally, they have devoted time each month to help develop and disseminate COVID-19 health materials.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, in March 2020, many churches and faith organizations had to temporarily close their doors to their congregants. The three pastors helped prevent the spread of COVID-19, by moving to an online platform to continue to serve their communities. Without hesitation, the pastors followed the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and developed creative ways to stay in touch with their congregants, considering many of their congregants were at high risk.
Despite the unfortunate closure of many churches, the pastors continued with their mission to help the community. During these challenging times, they still gave people hope and showed their support to those in need. Specifically, Pastor Alfaro helped his congregants by picking up groceries, running errands, and connecting congregants with other social services. Pastor Medina, along with his spouse, started Sopitas de Amor ministry, in which they prepare food, like soup and rice, for people in need. Very similarly, Pastor Cotto would provide meals and clothing to people experiencing homelessness and members of his church.
As a preventive measure, the three church leaders shared information regarding vaccinations with their congregants, especially those who were considered high-risk such as children, older adults, and those who have underlying health concerns. Despite the stigma and fear about COVID-19 vaccination, the church leaders were seen as trusted messengers, who did not force people to get vaccinated but shared factual information that emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated.
Upon opening their church again and holding in-person services, the church leaders advised their members to wear face masks, use hand sanitizer, stay at home when sick, and social distance when at church. Pastor Medina shared that he developed his own protocol in which he made sure that the church was disinfected after each service and created a to-do list once arriving at the church. Some of the items on the to-do list were washing hands upon arrival at the church and wearing a mask.
The three church leaders invite and encourage all of their congregants to get the COVID-19 vaccine and remind them that there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation online. Therefore, it is important to be informed and trust the science behind vaccines. Lastly, they also reminded us that “La fe no está en conflicto con la ciencia”, which means that faith is not in conflict with science.
This article is part of Esperanza’s community COVID-19 and flu vaccine project (Our Voices, Our Vaccines), which informs and engages Latinos on public health and vaccination programs impacting their well-being.