How Faith Leaders Are Increasing COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence

Clergy getting vaccinated.

Alex Wong / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Faith leaders can boost vaccine confidence in their communities by getting vaccinated in public and participating in vaccine education campaigns.
  • Religious communities have been partnering with health agencies and institutions to improve vaccine access, including setting up vaccination sites in places of worship.
  • Sponsoring mobile vaccination units and having a unified message regarding vaccine acceptability are other ways religious leaders are promoting vaccination.

On March 16, local health officials and interfaith leaders gathered at the Washington National Cathedral for a major COVID-19 vaccine event. To encourage vaccination among faith-based communities and in an effort to demystify the process, more than two dozen religious leaders of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths got vaccinated in public.

During the event, Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, recognized the importance of faith-based organizations in helping more Americans get vaccinated. Because religious leaders are highly trusted individuals in their communities, faith can become a powerful tool in encouraging vaccination. 

“We need to underscore that all of the ways that we can prevent COVID-19—vaccinations, social distancing, mask-wearing—are part of how we love our neighbor as ourselves," Rev. Debra Haffner, MPH, MDiv, DMin, a parish minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia, tells Verywell. "We have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to everyone. As a Unitarian Universalist, we believe in science—and that means getting vaccinated and partnering with public health.”

Aside from actively promoting vaccination, faith leaders can also provide much-needed guidance, support, and spiritual care during this stressful and traumatic period. 

“Faith leaders can calm the waters where they are rough, and build faith, hope, and charity among all people," Doug Fountain, executive director of the Christian Connections for International Health, tells Verywell. "It is not easy when there is a lot of angst, and the clear and calm voice of faith leaders is needed to decrease panic and anxiety."

Faith leaders are playing a critical role in shaping vaccine availability, accessibility, and acceptance in religious communities.

What This Means For You

If you have questions about the safety or availability of the COVID-19 vaccines, you can reach out to your faith leaders to acquire educational resources, hear about first-hand vaccination experiences, or receive assistance in securing your vaccine appointment.

Boosting Vaccine Confidence

More than 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S. so far. However, many people are still hesitant about getting vaccinated. This can stem from a number of factors, like misinformation or even theological objections to the content of certain vaccines.

In religious communities of color, where vaccine hesitancy is often rooted in mistrust in healthcare systems, seeing faith leaders put their trust in the vaccine is a major motivator for them to do the same.

According to a survey by the Berna Group, many Black individuals regard pastors of African American churches as some of the most important leaders in Black communities. “That being the case, we need to use these leaders to make the clarion call to our community," Rev. Clarence C. Moore, senior pastor of the New Era Church in Indianapolis, tells Verywell. "We also need to have our African American health professionals out promoting this in their churches and communities."

“I think it's important for faith leaders to encourage their flocks to be vaccinated," Haffner adds. "I actually was filmed being vaccinated for a public service announcement." Various initiatives, such as the National Black Muslim COVID Coalition and COVID-19 Prevention Network Faith Initiative, have been established to engage with religious communities by sharing relevant information and building trust in the vaccine.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue

It is essential for religious leaders to teach that science and faith are not enemies, but partners.

— Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue

“I have made various television appearances pushing the efficacy and urgency of taking the vaccine," Moore says. "We are also asking health professionals to bring the vaccine to our churches. I made my and my wife’s vaccinations very public. I see other pastors following suit.”

Some Roman Catholic individuals may have concerns about the use of fetal cell lines to develop the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. To address this, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put out a statement saying that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process."

“It is essential for religious leaders to teach that science and faith are not enemies, but partners," Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. tells Verywell. "It is the highest commandment in our faith to save another’s life. By taking the vaccine and encouraging others to do so one is potentially saving many lives. Not to take the vaccine may cause another’s death."

Improving Vaccine Accessibility

Vaccination centers aren’t always accessible to everyone, especially those who live far away without personal means of transportation. Many communities also have limited access to medical institutions.

To address this, health agencies and institutions have been collaborating with religious communities to promote vaccination and improve access in several states such as Philadelphia, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Health institutions are bringing the vaccine closer to people by using places of worship as vaccination sites, which also works to improve vaccine confidence because individuals can get the vaccine at a trusted location.

“We need to make churches visible vaccination sites once the availability is a reality," Moore says. "In our case, one of our medical doctors is leading the vaccination effort here at our church. I am proud to announce that we will have a vaccination clinic taking place at my church next Saturday.”

In Chicago, religious schools have also partnered with local health officials to provide vaccines for educators and school staff. Faith-based health workers and organizations tend to go the extra mile to reach remote villages, urban poor areas, and any community of people who lack access to services, Fountain says. 

“We are also using our Bus Ministry to go out and pick up members of our church and anyone in the community that needs a ride to our vaccination site," Moore says. "I will be encouraging other pastors across the city to do the same."

Other Strategies to Promote Vaccination

According to experts, there are other strategies that can promote vaccination among religious communities, which include:

  • Sponsoring mobile vaccination units at parks and other places where families gather
  • Encouraging members of the community to share on social media when they’ve been vaccinated
  • Establishing vaccine education campaigns featuring leading faith voices
  • Collaborating with professional Black athletes and entertainers sharing a community’s faith to encourage individuals to get vaccinated
  • Having a unified messaging across church actors around vaccine promotion and acceptability

It might be a tall order to expect faith leaders to become fully informed about the COVID-19 vaccines because they are—first and foremost—spiritual advisors, Fountain says, but many are doing just that. “We all have a role to assure fair and equitable access to vaccines and services, and we can all advocate for that, raise awareness and place sufficient pressure with decision-makers on this,” he adds.

However, faith leaders aren't alone in educating individuals and dispelling misconceptions about the vaccine, and many religious communities often partner with health professionals. Last February, the American Muslim Health Professionals held a webinar featuring Anthony Fauci, MD, and medical experts from the Muslim community to discuss the vaccine and answer frequently asked questions.

“I had a Zoom informational meeting with my congregation in February with health professionals from our church, and amazingly, over ten couples and many other individuals were persuaded to take the vaccine,” Moore says. “They just needed to be educated on how the vaccine was manufactured and that it was safe to take.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins participates in a vaccine confidence event at the Washington National Cathedral.

  2. The White House. Remarks by President Biden on the 100 million shot goal.

  3. Barna Group Inc. Most Black adults say religion & the Black experience go hand in hand.

  4. North Dakota Department of Health. COVID-19 vaccines & fetal cell lines.

  5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines.

  6. Laughlin J. Black Philadelphians aren’t getting their fair share of COVID-19 vaccines. Faith leaders and hospitals are hearing a call to fix that. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

  7. Hinton C. Local churches boosting access to COVID vaccines. The Oklahoman.

  8. Stradling R. UNC Health goes mobile to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in COVID vaccination. The News & Observer.

  9. Cullotta K. Alliance of religious schools in Cook County arranges for vaccines for all full-time employees. Chicago Tribune.

  10. American Muslim Health Professionals. A conversation on COVID-19 vaccine with Dr. Anthony Fauci & the American-Muslim community.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.