Mistrust of vaccines runs deep in African-American communities. Against formidable odds, Fr. Paul Abernathy and his teams are trying to convince residents fo Pittsburgh's Black neighborhoods to volunteer for trials testing a COVID-19 shot.
NEW YORK TIMES - Trials for vaccines developed by the drug companies Moderna and AstraZeneca are being conducted at local sites across the country, including the University of Pittsburgh. In June, Pitt's Dr. Elizabeth Miller reached out to local groups to help with recruitment. A professor at Pitt Medicine and in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Miller is a co-director of the community engagement program for the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, coordinating outreach for local vaccine trials.
At early meetings, Rev. Paul Abernathy, 41, an Orthodox Christian priest and Iraq War veteran who is Black, spoke up: The national strategy of radio commercials, online ads, and church sermons was not enough to persuade people to enroll, he said. They needed to be pulled into conversation, one on one. And he had just the team to do so.
In 2011, Father Paul, as he is known locally, founded an organization that he recently renamed the Neighborhood Resilience Project. Run mostly by volunteers, it provides food, counseling, medical care, and other services to the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In April, in response to the pandemic tearing through those communities, his group trained volunteers to check on their neighbors. These “community health deputies” offered masks to young people hanging out on corners and picked up food and medicine for older people.
To Father Paul, Covid-19 is one more deadly trauma in a litany that has shaken Black neighborhoods. People come to his organization seeking food, health care and clothes and wind up talking about stabbings, overdoses, robberies, fires, domestic violence.
Why not have the deputies recruit for the vaccine trials? suggested Father Paul, a Pittsburgh native whose ancestry is African-American, Syrian and Italian-Polish. “People trust folks who look like them, who know them,” he explained ...
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photos: Chang W. Lee / The New York Times