Hebrew College in Newton is working with local organizations in the region to help address vaccine hesitancy in local communities of color hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 Faith in the Vaccine Ambassador Program, which was launched this summer and will run through December, helps connect about 30 student volunteers with local groups already working to help build support for vaccines.
The college’s Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership is partnering with groups including Black Boston COVID Coalition, We Got Us, and Turn In. Reach Out. to help increase vaccinations in those neighborhoods.
“This is about trust and the ability to communicate within diverse communities, and having representatives of those communities educate others,” said Rabbi Or Rose, director of the Miller Center. “We need to listen to voices of people who are often marginalized, or not heard often enough.”
The participating volunteers include students from high schools, colleges, and universities, as well as graduate students, organizers said.
Locally, early in the vaccine rollout, Black and Latino communities in Suffolk County had less access to vaccinations. By July, there were areas that continued to lag in getting shots into arms.
Disparities in the pandemic and vaccine rollout have been followed by calls for a statewide office and a cabinet-level post to oversee an equity-focused review of the state’s COVID-19 response.
Kim Bress, the coordinator of the program, said Hebrew College sought to work closely with organizations with deep roots in places such as Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester.
“One of the important goals ... of this program was to plug into community organizations that are already boots-on-the-ground, doing the work towards increasing access to vaccinations,” Bress said.
The Miller Center is working with a national organization, Interfaith Youth Core, which is helping to coordinate similar outreach programs nationwide..
Rose said the college’s vaccine ambassador effort in Boston followed the Miller Center’s COVID Youth Commission, which organized teen volunteers to participate in food drives and other outreach work in the region.
“It’s important for people across religious, ethnic, racial, cultural, and socio-economic [groups] to learn more about the lived experience of other people,” Rose said. “If we are genuinely committed to the healing of our communities ... it requires that we engage beyond the usual borders that we sometimes find ourselves living in.”
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