Newark Faith Leaders Roll Up Their Sleeves Against COVID-19

NEWARK, N.J.  — Nearly a dozen churches in New Jersey’s largest city are part of an initiative urging the community to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

It was part of a kickoff for what will be New Jersey’s first and largest faith based vaccination center opening in the city this week.

The primary goal is to increase the rate of vaccinations within the Black community, which have been lagging significantly behind statewide.

African Americans account for just under 4% of those already vaccinated.

“I didn’t want nothing to do with it. I didn’t want to get it at all,” Pastor Max Johnson said.

But on Monday, Johnson rolled up his sleeve and got his first dose of the vaccine.

When asked what changed his mind, Johnson said, “My apostolic overseer. He said he already had the shot and I trust him with my life.”

Now Pastor Johnson is hoping he can inspire that same confidence in someone else.

“Hearing it from someone that they trust, they’re more likely to receive it,” apostolic overseer Bernard Wilkes said.

Johnson was among 10 Newark clergy members publicly getting the shot in an effort to encourage more members of the Black community to sign up. The group calls the initiative the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan.

“In our city, 4-5% of the folks in the city of Newark of color have been vaccinated today. We have to increase that number,” said the Rev. Dr. David Jefferson of Metropolitan Baptist Church.

“Since the pandemic began we have been with families that have lost loved ones. We have helped them through difficult moments in death,” added the Rev. Ralph Branch of Mount Calvary Baptist Church. “I thank God that we now have the opportunity to help them live by way of this vaccine.”

Ten different Newark churches have partnered with Saint James Health to offer the vaccine every Wednesday.

Getting the word out is one challenge. The other is supply.

“We have been demanding that we would get more vaccine,” Jefferson said.

“At this time, we have a thousand people in the queue and as we get the vaccines we schedule them for appointments,” said Nicole Fields, president and CEO of Saint James Health.

The faith-based vaccination program will be held at Metropolitan Baptist Church’s Willing Heart Community Care Center.

The plan is to spread the word through church services, social media and knocking on doors.

Pastor Johnson’s pitch to people?

“Taking the vaccine is better than getting COVID,” he said.

Individuals must either reside or work in Newark and need to register online here.

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Combating misinformation on the vaccine, whether it be coming from social media or word of mouth, is what faith leaders say they are going to zero in on in the next couple of weeks with a campaign that will involve knocking on doors and using various social media platforms to get their message out.