Greater Cleveland Congregations Clearing Up COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation

a Black man receiving a shot.
Many questions around the vaccine have related to previous medical testing and vaccine trials in Black communities. [Mongkolchon Akesin / Shutterstock]

Members of Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) are getting trained to host question-and-answer sessions about the COVID-19 vaccine in their communities, expanding the number of people available to address Clevelanders' questions and concerns – without pressuring anyone to get vaccinated.

About 45 GCC members have attended training sessions with the Union of Concerned Scientists, according to GCC Executive Director Keisha Krumm. Those members will go on to host their own sessions in March.

“We felt like it was really important to create the space for people to learn what scientists were doing with the vaccine, what it is, and really be able to ask their questions, before anyone says to them, ‘You have to do this,’” Krumm said.

A majority of the questions that have come up so far relate to the problematic history and negative perception of medical trials and vaccine testing in Black communities, Krumm said, as well as confusion on how vaccines work.

“We really wanted to address that history,” Krumm said, “and then also show there have been regulations put in place so that doesn’t happen again.”

While the sessions don’t aim to pressure anyone to get vaccinated, Krumm said talking to scientists about how the vaccine worked did change her mind about getting the shot. She now feels safe getting vaccinated when it is available to her.

“What’s been really good about it is that people come with questions,” Krumm said. “There are people that are coming that are not sure if they’re even going to take the vaccine. There are people that are coming that have already taken it. And there’s people that know when they’re available for them, they are going to take it.”

The sessions are an extension of GCC’s Color of Health program, which launched efforts to increase testing in minority communities last year. About 4,000 people in the Greater Cleveland area were tested for COVID-19 through the program, Krumm said, and it helped build trust within the communities.

“It’s really created this dynamic where people see the congregations in the neighborhood as trusted places to go, and also, it just clears the confusion,” Krumm said.

The initiative has also provided scientists with an opportunity to hear directly from residents, said Anita Desikan, a research analyst for the Union for Concerned Scientists, who helps run the training sessions.

Questions asked during the sessions have pushed Desikan and her colleagues to dig deeper into how the vaccine was managed and created, she said. It has helped her to feel more confident in that process, she said.

“I have a lot of faith now that the scientists did the dorkiest, most robust science you can imagine,” Desikan said. “It’s been really helpful to not only learn but to present this information to community groups.”

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