‘It doesn’t care about the color of our skin’: Triad pastors face COVID-19 vaccine concerns head-on

Coronavirus

For months, we’ve heard about vaccine hesitancy among minorities and the efforts to address that. But vaccine hesitancy is not limited to Black and Hispanic people. 

Research shows millions of white evangelicals have no intention of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“Evangelicals have a moral question about it,” said evangelical preacher and author Alex McFarland. 

There are about 41 million white evangelicals in America. According to the Pew Research Center, they’re among the least likely to get vaccinated against COVID. About 45% said they wouldn’t get a vaccine. McFarland says his people have questions. 

“They want to know, ‘Is this really safe for my body?’ And the mixed messages that have come from Dr. Fauci and the White House, I believe, has caused a log of evangelicals to wonder, ‘Can I really trust my government on matters of my personal health?’” McFarland said.

“It wasn’t the same as what Alex talked about, that the vaccine was too rushed,” Odell Cleveland said of African Americans. “It was just the traditional issues that African Americans had with the government and experimenting with medicine.” 

Cleveland coordinated the COVID-19 testing and vaccine site at Mr. Zion Church in Greensboro, so he’s seen and heard a lot of vaccine hesitancy. The Tuskegee Experiment at the top of the list. That’s when U.S. Government doctors infected hundreds of Black men with syphilis and didn’t treat them even after penicillin was found to be a remedy. Some of those men died. Cleveland says he gets it. But he counters with the fact that COVID-19 is still killing people. 

“And it’s disproportionately people who look like me,” he explained. “So on one hand we have what happened years ago. And on the other hand, we have what’s happening now. So we just ask people to consider now and that’s been a big turn in a lot of African Americans starting to get the vaccine.”

We introduced you to McFarland and Cleveland in February. They started a podcast called “I Hear Ya.” They have tough conversations about race. The only rule is that they end as brothers. They believe we all have more in common than what divides us. 

“I think one thing everybody agrees on is we want to reach the point of herd immunity where I don’t know if it’s antibodies or the working of the vaccine, where we’re able to be resistant of it,” Cleveland said. 

“We’re going to arrest this thing by living our lives and being out there being able to be healthy and mobile and not sequestered away,” said McFarland. 

“I believe we reach herd immunity by following the science, try to social distance, try to wear a mask, get vaccinated. In the meantime, just like nature, if it doesn’t occur then people are going to die off,” Cleveland added. 

Experts warn if more white evangelicals don’t come around, herd immunity and the end of the pandemic could be a long way off. There have been similar warnings for Black people. These two men know how vital it is for faith leaders to show faith in the vaccine. 

“I’ve interviewed doctors,” McFarland said. “I believe the vaccines are safe. I believe it’s a responsible thing to do … to take the vaccine.” 

“A lot of African American pastors push the fact that they received the vaccination. Just like me…I have my card,” Cleveland added. 

At the end of the day: “The virus doesn’t care about what political party you belong to. It doesn’t care about the color of our skin,” Cleveland said. 

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