JAMA Highlights Miller School’s Promotion of Faith-Based Initiative to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations among Blacks, Latinos

Dr. Glenn Flores highlights the importance of addressing a key health care disparity in a Journal of American Medical Association ‘Viewpoint.’

Concerned about relatively low COVID-19 vaccination rates among U.S. Blacks and Latinos, Glenn Flores, M.D., chair of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, is helping to guide a faith-based initiative addressing one of the nation’s most pressing health care challenges.

UHealth's Pediatric Mobile Clinic visiting Homestead.

“We must raise the vaccination rates for persons of color, as they are three times more likely than White people to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and twice as likely to die from the disease,” said Dr. Flores, who serves on the nine-physician advisory board of the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI).

This coalition of more than 150,000 Black and Latino churches is working to reduce vaccine hesitancy, dispel vaccine myths, and build trust with medical professionals by delivering culturally relevant information to minority communities.

Dr. Flores was the senior author of “Partnering With the Faith-Based Community to Address Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccination Rates and Outcomes Among US Black and Latino Populations,” a “Viewpoint” article published August 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Co-authors were the Rev. Anthony Evans, M.Div., president of NCBI, and Joseph Webster, M.D., an NBCI advisory board member.

Keeping Kids Safe

Although Blacks and Latinos constitute 32 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 24 percent of the 159 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, according to the JAMA authors. In contrast, Whites constitute 60 percent of the fully vaccinated.

“Increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates for Black and Latino communities is particularly important in Florida, which currently has one-fifth of the nation’s hospitalizations,” said Dr. Flores, “Since children under 12 years old are not eligible for the vaccine, we need to be sure of their safety when returning to school at a time when  the highly transmissible Delta variant is surging.”

Glenn Flores, M.D.

The University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital have already reached out to South Florida’s faith-based community, added Dr. Flores, who is also senior associate dean of child health; professor of pediatrics and public health sciences; the George E. Batchelor Endowed Chair in Child Health; physician-in-chief for the Miller School and Jackson Health System; and director, APA/NIDDK Research in Academic Pediatrics Initiative on Diversity (RAPID)

Expanding Relationships

Last month, Dr. Flores and the Rev. Evans connected Lisa Gwynn, D.O., associate professor of clinical pediatrics and public health sciences, with Miami-Dade church leaders to administer COVID-19 vaccinations through the Pediatric Mobile Clinic.

“Along with delivering vaccines, we want to expand on those relationships to provide greater access to health care for everyone in our community,” he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., the National Black Church Initiative seeks to eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in health care, technology, education, housing, and the environment. Earlier this year, NBCI announced a five-year plan to offer its 150,000 Black and Latino churches across the U.S. as vaccination centers. To date, NBCI has engaged 2.5 million volunteers, and held more than 157 vaccination events.

“This bold NBCI initiative to advance the public’s health could prove to be a potent national model for eliminating Black and Latino racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care across the U.S.,” Dr. Flores said.  “It supports the efforts of local and state health departments to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, while building strong networks of cooperation and trust.”

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