Noting that people’s responses to COVID-19 vaccination fall on a spectrum, the Rev. Paul Perez plans to be vaccinated and encourages others to do so, too.
Director of Connectional Ministry
We are in the midst of a historic public health effort to vaccinate for COVID-19. The development and distribution of not only one, but multiple vaccines in under a year is a momentous scientific achievement and a testament to the commitment of scientists and health care workers around the world.
Many of my family members work in the medical field. The vaccine feels like an answer to prayers for my family. I was so relieved when my sister-in-law, a nurse caring for COVID-19 patients, texted me a picture of her vaccination card.
While news of the vaccine brings excitement and relief for many, I know this is not a sentiment shared by everyone.
I recently heard an NPR story that included an interview with Dr. Kimberly Manning, professor at Emory University’s medical school. Dr. Manning, reflecting on the responses she’s encountered in her own Black community, offered this helpful insight.: “Some people are a slow yes. And we just are too impatient to get to the point where we let them get to their yes.”
Following Dr. Manning, we might think of people’s responses falling along the following spectrum: “Yes” ……………….“Slow yes” or “not yet” ……………….“No.”
Some people are a solid “yes” and ready right now to get the vaccine.
Some people are a “slow yes” or “not yet.” Someone might be hesitant to get vaccinated because they just started a new medication or medical treatment and are concerned about how the vaccine will interact. Or someone might be cautious about the rapid development of the vaccine and want to wait and see how people react. Or someone, especially a person of color or a person who identifies as LBGTQIA+, might have mistrust of the health care system and major public health efforts due to personal experience and/or the memory of unethical medical treatment of their community.
Some people are a solid “no.” They will not get the vaccine for a variety of reasons. Like medical conditions that make them ineligible or deeply held personal beliefs about vaccines.
My hunch is we all know someone who would respond in each of these ways. I also speculate that most, if not all, of our churches have members who fall along this spectrum.
In these incredibly uncertain and anxious times, we need to be gracious to each other. Taking care to communicate with clarity and compassion. Respecting the solid “yes” and solid “no.” Providing support and offering patience to “slow yes’s” who are discerning their personal response. The public health goal is not for everyone to agree but to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
My personal discernment has brought me to this decision: I will get a COVID-19 vaccine when I am eligible and encourage others to do the same.
I also want to take a moment to address my fellow clergy who are wondering about their status as essential workers. They are discerning whether they should get the vaccine and if receiving a vaccine “cuts the line” or “takes a vaccine from someone else who needs it more.” Here are my personal reflections on those questions:
- At the time of writing, clergy are not classified as essential workers by the State of Michigan in Phase 1b or 1c of the vaccination guidelines. Most county and municipal health departments are following these guidelines. You can find your health department here.
- At the time of writing, the City of Detroit Health Department is the only department classifying clergy as essential workers.
- Stay up to date on guidelines by frequently checking the State and your county/municipal COVID-19 vaccination websites.
- If you find yourself able to get vaccinated and are comfortable with receiving the vaccine, then get vaccinated as soon as possible.
- Vaccination protects both individuals and our communities. Again, the public health goal of vaccination is to get as many people vaccinated and quickly as possible. This will slow the spread of the virus, so fewer people get sick and die. It will also slow the rate the virus changes and develops into deadlier, more communicable, and/or more resistant strains.
- You are not taking someone else’s place. Not everyone eligible to receive a vaccine is choosing to be vaccinated. You are most likely taking an “open” spot in the current distribution system and helping to meet the goal of getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
- Because of systemic injustices and inequities in our healthcare system, there are, indeed, legitimate concerns about what communities do or do not have access to the vaccine doses. Please consider sharing your concern with local and state elected officials and the newly formed State Commission. Please also consider contacting your local health department to inquire if your congregation might help reach people and communities with limited access to the vaccine.
- As a trusted community leader, please consider sharing your vaccination story on social media, in your church communication, in your local communication, and during worship. Let people know why you chose to get the vaccine and why you think vaccination is important.
I close with this prayer for receiving the vaccine authored by Naomi Levy, leader of Nashuva, the Jewish Spiritual Outreach Center in Los Angeles.
I have been praying for this day, and now it is here!
With great excitement, a touch of trepidation
And with deep gratitude
I give thanks
To all the scientists who toiled day and night
So that I might receive this tiny vaccination
That will protect me and all souls around this world.
With the pandemic still raging
I am blessed to do my part to defeat it.
Let this be the beginning of a new day,
A new time of hope, of joy, of freedom
And most of all, of health.
I thank You, God, for blessing me with life.
For sustaining my life
And for enabling me to reach this awe-filled moment.