Washington Black pastors fight vaccine inequity

The fight to find an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination is a frustration residents in some of Washington D.C.'s predominately Black neighborhoods face. Church leaders in the District are using a little faith to fight for better access. (Feb. 23)

Video Transcript

- As a caregiver, when I get up in the morning, first thing I do is get her breakfast together.

HILARY POWELL: In between taking care of his 93-year-old mom, [? Dorothy, ?] Melvin Marriott spends hours a day on hold over the phone, trying to get her an appointment for a coronavirus vaccination. It's been going on for weeks.

MELVIN MARRIOTT: When I finally get through, it's not available. They're all filled up, sorry. They're all filled up. What channels do you go through? That's-- I think that's the problem, too.

HILARY POWELL: Marriott lives in Ward 8, an area 92% Black, with the district's highest per capita death rate from the virus. Black residents represent nearly 75% of DC COVID deaths. The city is now prioritizing wards like Marriott's for vaccination, offering more appointment slots to target seniors in the poorest and Blackest parts of the nation's capital.

KENYAN MCDUFFIE: Black and brown residents in the city suffer disproportionately from systemic health and social inequities. Every single effort on the part of the District of Columbia government to fight COVID-19 should be done through the lens of racial equity. And that means, really, you know, the people with the highest risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 must have priority access.

HILARY POWELL: He says the digital divide means Black seniors don't always have a computer or internet access, a disadvantage for online registrations. In DC's fourth ward, 68-year-old Mary Wade says she only got the vaccine quickly because she's part of the Moderna study. The cancer survivor says she's learned to put a little faith in medicine and hopes to inspire her neighbors.

MARY WADE: I'm grateful I don't have to be trying to search somewhere to get the vaccine. But however, I would have if it wasn't for me being in the study. Just try to help people. If you ask me, I will share it with you. God is good, and life goes on.

HILARY POWELL: DC health officials hope Black religious leaders will be community influencers to overcome historic broken trust between Black people and the medical community.

KENYAN MCDUFFIE: Making sure that we are engaging the faith community and the people who worship with them because they have a connection that transcends government.

HILARY POWELL: It's happening at Shiloh Baptist Church, where Reverend Wallace Charles Smith is sharing his vaccine experience on his pulpit, hoping others will practice what he preaches.

WALLACE CHARLES SMITH: It's a picture of me getting my vaccination from COVID-19. Well, I want to assure all of us that it was the right thing to do.

HILARY POWELL: Marriott would like to see outreach come to him, hoping DC Mayor Muriel Bowser's door-to-door outreach called Vaccine Buddies makes a stop on his street.

MELVIN MARRIOTT: Well, maybe have somebody come to the house or something, check on my mom or something. You know, I'm not that concerned about myself.

HILARY POWELL: Time that could be better spent with his loved one. Hilary Powell, the Associated Press.