Fort Myers pastors on a mission to get underserved communities the vaccine

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Rev. Ken Burns of Friendship Baptist Church about to be vaccinated. Credit: Lee County

There’s a new effort to get vaccines to underserved communities in Southwest Florida. A partnership between churches and a county government could give more community members an opportunity to get vaccinated for the coronavirus.

Lee County is working with the pastors of churches, including Mount Hermon Ministries and Friendship Baptist Church in Fort Myers, to help get more people in underserved, minority communities vaccinated.

DOH-Lee is considering setting up vaccination sites on church grounds to target some of the most vulnerable communities

For Pastor James Bing of Friendship Baptist Church, making sure more people in the community he serves get the vaccine is a mission that’s close to his heart.

Pastor James Bing being prepped for his COVID-19 vaccination. Credit: Lee County

“I got involved because I am one of the high-risk people. I will be 83 years old my next birthday,” Pastor Bing explained. “I’ve had triple bypass surgery. I’ve had two strokes. I take 11 pills a day.”

Bing says, like many people he knows, he tried to get the vaccine at the S.T.A.R.S. Complex site in late December but could not wait in line.

“There were not 20 people of our community in line to get the vaccine,” Bing said. “We have people who come from more affluent communities into this community and displace the people who live here.”

Since the County switched to appointments, he says it’s still hard to get scheduled for the vaccine, and many people in Bing’s community struggle with transportation.

That’s why he is happy he was able to get vaccinated at Renaissance Preserve, where the County set up a vaccine event to target underserved communities.

The County is working with local churches to provide more vaccines in minority communities and help dispel myths about the shot.

Rev. Ken Burns of Friendship Baptist Church about to be vaccinated. Credit: Lee County

“The last conversation, only about 7 percent of all vaccinations that have happened in the county have been African American or Hispanic,” explained Pastor William Glover of Mount Hermon Ministries. “The church is a community center, so it’s a safe place, a safe space with partners the community knows.”

Glover says more vaccinations are crucial in minority communities hit especially hard by COVID-19.

“Many people of color suffer from underlying conditions and chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol,” Glover said. “Population-wise, we have been disproportionally infected by the virus.”

Lee County says it’s working with LeeTran to provide transportation to the RSW Airport vaccine site for those in need if they have an appointment.

Pastors Bing and Glover told us they are willing and ready to open up their church doors to help get more people in their community vaccinated.

Glover hopes his church and others like his can be a part of the effort to provide that lifesaving shot.

“One of the leading factors in behavioral health decisions that people make, one of the leading influences is their belief systems and their clergy,” Glover said. “So anytime you can use those allies to help advance a positive public health message, I think that’s always a good partnership.”

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