By Caleb Mynatt
A vaccine drive organized by CBF field personnel Marc and Kim Wyatt and the Wake County Health Department gave over 30 people their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, May 15.
The event, which was held under tents in a local neighborhood, sought to give access to the refugee and immigrant population in Raleigh. The vaccines were provided by the Health Department, but the effort to find and encourage people to get the vaccine was done by the Wyatts and their team from Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh. The hope is that these efforts will result in more immigrants and refugees, who have been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors.
“We’re going to neighborhoods where we know refugees and immigrants live and going door to door beforehand so we can give them information before the clinic so they can make an informed decision on getting it,” said Kim Wyatt, CBF field personnel and founder of Welcome House.
The event was such a success that the Health Department and the Wyatts have organized at least two more vaccine drives for the future, one for June 12 and one roughly a month after that one. Both of these drives will provide the Pfizer vaccine, meaning children 12 years or older can also get vaccinated. They will also feature new vaccine busses provided by the Wake County Health Department, making the vaccine more mobile and accessible than ever before.
“The Health Department is really on this and are joyfully interested in making sure that those with less access have a greater opportunity to get the vaccine,” said Wyatt.
Although the vaccine has become widely available, its distribution has still been extremely unequal based on race and ethnicity. According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 67% of white adults in NC have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine as of June 7, more than doubling the total vaccination rate (28%) of all other races combined.
Although immigration status is not included in demographic information, it’s also widely believed that refugee, immigrant and migrant (RIM) populations face the most barriers to receiving vaccines. A recent piece published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene expresses that same concern. From socioeconomic status, to language barriers, to other factors that may keep them from being able to access the vaccine like mobility and childcare, these populations often need advocates and allies that can help them get the access they need. In the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, there are no better or qualified allies than the Wyatts, whose ministries are focused on helping the RIM population in North Carolina.
“I strongly believe that providing medical help to people is cultivating a loving community,” said Wyatt. “Our international neighbors often feel isolated from the greater community which in itself is a huge barrier to receiving medical care. We want to do what we can to decrease this isolation through friendship and presence.”
The vaccine drive was not only put on by the Wyatts and the Wake County Health Department but was also assisted by other refugee advocates and organizations. From translators, to nurses, to the immigrants and their friends who are spreading the word of this vaccination opportunity and the ones in the future, this was made possible because of the efforts by a large variety of people. The story, according to Wyatt, highlights the potential of what can be accomplished in a collaborative effort between them and other governmental and community organizations.
“The beauty of this is the opportunity to cultivate a loving community not just with the refugee-immigrant community, but with other entities,” said Wyatt. “The Health Department. Local churches. Refugee agencies. We’re all collaborating together to help the community, and I think that’s big.”
With the success of these vaccination efforts, the hope is that the partnership between the Wyatts and the Wake County Health Department won’t end here. Along with inequitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine, immigrants and refugees also face the same issue when it comes to other shots like the flu vaccine. Now, with the relationship with the Wyatts and the new vaccine buses, the hope is that the Wake County Health Department will continue to do mobile vaccine clinics and focus on providing access to immigrant and refugee communities.
“One of the silver linings of the pandemic was organizations thinking of and finding new ways to do things,” said Wyatt. “I really hope this can continue and we can continue to help the most vulnerable in our community.”
The vaccine clinic comes at an opportune time for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship following its recent membership into the COVID-19 Community Corps. The COVID-19 Community Corps was created by the Biden administration in hopes that a grassroots effort, led by trusted leaders and organizations in local communities, would help encourage inoculation and increase vaccination rates. This is the first hands-on example of CBF field personnel being the driving force of vaccination efforts since joining the Corps. With more vaccine drives to come to the immigrant and refugee communities in Raleigh alone, it’s also far from the last.
“I think Marc and Kim are incredibly compassionate and understand the need and promise of the vaccine,” said Stephen Reeves, CBF’s Director of Advocacy, as well as CBF’s representative to the Community Corps. “I hope this story will not only highlight the outstanding work of CBF field personnel in combatting the pandemic, but also encourage other people to go get the vaccine.”