June Leffler Published

Black, Faith Leaders Bridge Cultural Gap To Bring More Vaccines To African American Communities


Just northwest of Charleston sits an unassuming church that serves Dunbar residents’ spiritual needs. But on Saturday, Institute Church Of Nazarene opened its recreation center to meet the community’s physical needs, with a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for a mostly black clientele.

“They’re doing a wonderful job with the set-up and everything,” said Brenda Badger, 59. She made the 10 mile drive from Charleston to get her first Moderna dose. After getting her shot, she sat on a fold-out chair in a small gymnasium. In her hands was an egg timer–nurses wanted to make sure she didn’t have any adverse reactions before she went home.

“When that goes off I’m good…So I’m here for 15 minutes. I got about five more minutes,” she said.

Badger says the whole process was quick, in and out. That’s because this clinic was small, there were no massive lines. Just over a 100 doses were available. But in this case, more isn’t exactly better. The goal was to target mostly African Americans in Kanawha County.


June Leffler/ WVPB
Brenda Badger, 59, of Charleston got her first COVID-19 vaccine dose at a church clinic in Dunbar.

The clinic was also run by a mostly African American staff, as part of the faith-centered Partnership of African American Churches, or PAAC. Everyone that day got their shot from one of two nurses.

Teresa Johnson, 63, volunteered her time that Saturday to administer vaccines. She’s been a nurse for 40 years.

“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse since I was a little. I never wanted to do anything else. And I still love it,” Johnson said.


June Leffler/ WVPB
A nurse of 40 years, Teresa Johnson, 63, administered COVID-19 vaccinations at Institute Church Of Nazarene. She works for the Partnership of African American Churches treating those with opioid dependence.

The other nurse is Chamear Davis, 34. She tells everyone to take care of themselves once they leave her table.

“Some people feel some mild symptoms, maybe a fever, backache, things like that. Usually Ibuprofen every six to eight hours takes care of that,” Davis said.

Both nurses work full-time for PAAC. The Charleston-based nonprofit hosts an array of educational and medical services. Typically, Johnson treats people for opioid dependence, while Davis focuses on the more recent epidemic of COVID-19, bringing testing, and now vaccines, to African American communities.

“Since the vaccine has been put out, and since West Virginia is doing such a wonderful job of distributing it, we’ve decided to try to help with that effort and to make sure that the African American communities are getting it as well,” Davis said.

Rev. James Patterson’s agrees. He runs PAAC and works with players throughout the state for support. He made sure he got on the governor’s minority task force for Covid-19. Forming a partnership with the state brought in funding and training resources. Now, PAAC’s hosted its first vaccine clinic, with more to come.

Patterson respects every organization that’s getting vaccines out to people, like the National Guard and local health departments. But he felt it was important to run his own clinic.

“It has nothing to do sometimes with anything other than a cultural competency approach to reaching a community that you’re trying to reach. And we can do that,” Patterson said.

PAAC can do it because its staff looks like its clients. The work now is in the outreach, putting boots on the ground and making plenty of phone calls. PAAC pulls from the state’s central pre-registration system. It also calls on church pastors to make their own lists. That’s how Badger, the woman holding the egg timer, found out about the clinic.

Patterson says black churches carry a legacy of trust that cannot be denied even today.

“The black church is still the focal point, and the center of the community,” he said.

PAAC’s COVID-19 effort is expanding–with teams in Cabell, Kanawha, Raleigh, and Monongalia counties. They have hopes for a mobile clinic so they can reach almost every part of West Virginia. Patterson is asking for more funding from the state to realize that wider reach.

Patterson wasn’t sure how comfortable people would be to get their vaccine. But now that he’s in the thick of organizing these efforts, he says he doesn’t have to do much convincing.

“Now, that might have been true while back, but I don’t believe it’s true anymore. Because I mean, my phone’s been ringing off the hook, last night and this morning, of people wanting to get the vaccine,” he said.

Later this month WVPB’s show Us and Them will feature a full report on racial health disparities in West Virginia. It premieres on February 25th at 8 pm.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.