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Amid Some Skepticism, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City Church Hosts COVID-19 Vaccinations

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Siphiwe Sibeko/AP
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Church vaccination events can help fix historic health care inequities, Cleaver said.

Survey data show Black Missourians are the most skeptical among all demographic groups that COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed fairly.

In an effort to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are distributed equitably, some vaccination events are being held at primarily Black churches in the Kansas City area.

On Thursday morning, St. James United Methodist Church, the home church of Rep. Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, hosted a vaccination event for preselected community members.

Cleaver told KCUR by phone on Thursday that events such as this one, which was administered by Truman Medical Centers and University Health, serve to address historic inequities.

"If this country is truly to erase our ugly past, then efforts like the one Truman is taking are to be applauded,” Cleaver said.

Cleaver said the decision to hold the event at St. James was made by Truman Medical Centers and he had no involvement. Cleaver led the church as senior pastor until 2009. His son, Emanuel Cleaver III, now serves as its leader.

Truman Medical Centers and University Health planned to administer nearly 200 vaccines doses on Thursday to community members who were prioritized due to age or health, according to spokeswoman Leslie Carto.

“We know that across the country, people of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” said Niki Lee Donawa, chief community relations officer at Truman Medical Centers and University Health, in a news release. “We’re working to ensure that everyone in KCMO not only has access to the vaccine, but has access to vaccine information from healthcare experts.”

Truman Medical Centers and University Health administered vaccines at a similar event at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City last week.

Health experts have expressed concern that Black people may be vaccinated at lower rates because they have less access to vaccines and because they may hesitate to take them, which may be rooted in historic abuse of Black communities by the medical profession.

However, polling conducted on behalf of the Missouri Hospital Association at the start of the year suggests that Black Missourians may be slightly more receptive to getting vaccinated than Missouri's overalll population.

Sixty percent of the Black respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19, while 58 percent of all Missourian respondents responded the same way.

On the other hand, 42% of Black respondents said they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that vaccines would be distributed fairly, compared with 28% of residents overall who responded the same way. Black Missourians expressed the most doubt of any demographic group in Missouri identified by the pollsters.

Cleaver, who received his first COVID-19 dose in early January, said that the struggle to overcome skepticism about vaccines persists even within his own family.

“I have family members who are hesitant about taking the vaccine,” Cleaver said. “I was thrilled my father took it, but I have cousins who’ve told me, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ They don’t trust it.”

Black Missourians have been vaccinated at less than half the rate of white Missourians: 2.3% of Black residents have received the vaccine compared with 5.8% of white residents, according to state health department data.

The data also show that 17.7% of “multiracial” residents have received doses. Racial data is not available for about 5% of vaccine recipients.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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