A ‘Love Your Neighbor Opportunity’
NIH’ers Join Faith Leaders at Vaccine Confidence Event
NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci and NIMHD director Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable joined faith leaders, local health care providers and other public health officials Mar. 16 to promote immunization against Covid-19 and inspire confidence in the coronavirus vaccines. Held at the Washington National Cathedral, the event brought together representatives of 25 religious organizations—socially distanced and masked—to show a unified front in the pandemic fight.
“I’m honored to be in this sacred space with these leaders of multiple faiths,” said Collins. “Let us all recognize that the last year has been one of struggle and lament for all of us. And yet, we now have reasons for hope. As a believer and as a scientist, I can see the opportunity to use the tools of science to be part of God’s plan for healing. These vaccines have been in many ways, for many people, an answer to prayer. They are safe and effective beyond what we had a right to expect. And yet, they will not help people by sitting on the shelf. They need to be delivered into the arms of those who need them.”
In his turn at the lectern, Fauci, who also serves as chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, presented facts about Covid vaccines, how they were developed and the way they work in the body. He also answered several frequently asked questions about vaccination, and struck down several myths and misperceptions about the vaccines.
Pérez-Stable talked about NIH’s CEAL (Community Engagement Alliance Against Covid-19 Disparities), which works closely with populations hit hardest by Covid-19, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and American Indians/Alaska Natives.
“I thought it was fitting for us to be here today, working to support and encourage all of our communities, all of our communities of color, to do what we can do to be safe, and help end this pandemic that has devastated so many families in this country and around the globe,” he said. “This pandemic has illustrated inequities in our society that we knew about for decades, but really have been put in contrast in a rapid way.”
Also seated on stage was Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who briefly addressed the assembly.
“This is one great example of a partnership between government and faith-based organizations,” she said. “As President Biden has recognized, faith-based organizations can play key roles in helping Americans get vaccinated… Indeed, partnerships with diverse faith communities can be a powerful affirmation of our pluralism, and our unity across our differences in background and belief.”
Clergy representing multiple Christian denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and non-denominational) as well as Judaism and Islam attended the event, which was organized by the Washington National Cathedral’s canon missioner and minister for equity and inclusion, The Rev. Canon Leonard Hamlin, Sr.
“Over the past year,” he said, “words such as community, spirit, compassion, justice and a host of other words have been elevated in our vocabulary. The words are significant, but they have power only when they are connected to our actions. This evening, we have gathered in this space recognizing the challenge of this moment. But we come together embracing the opportunities that are in front of us.”
In addition to multiple faith communities and NIH, a number of regional health departments and jurisdictions sent representatives, including the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, Virginia’s Arlington County and City of Alexandria, as well as Howard University Hospital and University of Maryland Capital Region Health.
After the remarks ended, more than two dozen faith leaders lined up to be vaccinated—most, publicly on camera—as examples for their worship communities.
“Houses of worship are houses of hope,” Collins said. “The National Cathedral represents that. Today, all of you are putting hope into action—hope for an end to the terrible suffering and loss of life from Covid-19, hope for an end to the economic devastation it has caused, hope that the vaccine can protect not only you, but also if we do this together, your family, your friends, your community, your nation, your whole world. This is a love-your-neighbor opportunity to spread that hope.”
View the entire event online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8unIKvq_LAU.