From left, Pastor Gerard Duncan, UF Health Dr. Michael Lauzardo and Pastor Kevin Patz pray at the beginning of their town hall about the need for more coronavirus vaccinations among Gainesville's Black communities.

UF Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Leader Teams With Black Pastors In East Gainesville ‘To Make Sure Nobody Gets Left Behind’

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Churches in East Gainesville are working to extend vaccination opportunities to people in their church and community.

The Alachua County Christian Pastors Association’s social justice subcommittee held a town hall Thursday at Pastor Kevin Thorpe’s Faith Church.

Pastors Gerard Duncan, Mike Patz and Karl Anderson teamed up with Dr. Michael Lauzardo, director of UF Health’s coronavirus protection effort, to combat misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccinations within Black communities.

“It is important for African American leaders and pastors to combat these myths,” said Anderson, vice-president of the association. “People trust us.”

The Facebook Live town hall was mostly informal in tone and sought to put community members at ease.

“You are not going against your faith in going along with the scientific process,” Patz said.

Lauzardo described his own faith-based upbringing and inserted scientific conversation with a careful touch by describing science as “God’s language.”

“It’s by God’s grace that I am where I am,” Lauzardo said.

UF Health’s Director of Screen, Test and Protect Michael Lauzardo speaks with Black pastors about the importance of their congregations seeking a coronavirus vaccine.

Within the event, he discussed the vaccine, how UF Health is working to eliminate health disparities and his own experience with getting vaccinated.

Lauzardo said while nothing made by man is perfect, when you weigh contracting COVID-19 versus getting the vaccine, the vaccine is the clear choice.

He described how UF Health is working with the Florida Department of Health in an effort to mitigate health disparities and extend access of the vaccine to marginalized groups. As of Wednesday, Black people accounted for just 6%, or 1,225, of Alachua County residents who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, whereas they are an estimated 20% of the county population, according to U.S. Census figures. By contrast, white people comprise 70% of the 20,050 in the county who have completed their vaccination series and are 70% of the population.

The figures are similar at the state level.

“We need to earn trust and work together to make sure nobody gets left behind,” Lauzardo said.

Moreover, Anderson expressed gratitude for Lauzardo’s efforts.

“He’s more like a prophet to me,” Anderson said, “Everything he said would happen on the onset of this thing has happened. He’s amazing.”

Anderson began his efforts in getting community members vaccinated when he recognized that the first churches in Alachua County to receive vaccines were not in East Gainesville.

“I thought, ‘What is going on?’ Our Black and brown community members are the ones most likely to die,” Anderson said.

“I was pretty appalled when the most vulnerable were overlooked. I couldn’t sit idle and let that happen so I made some phone calls and ever since then we have been actively calling seniors.”

Anderson’s actions have led to over 1,000 people getting vaccinated at three different vaccine sites. He is not alone in his efforts.

While Anderson is working to be a liaison between the community and vaccinations, the Reverend Ron Rawls of Greater Bethel Church has proposed for his church to become a vaccination site.

Rawls said when vaccine efforts in Alachua County first began, he saw a lot of vaccine sites appear in more urban areas.

“The disparities that always pop up, popped up again,” he said. “We should be the population being targeted because we are affected at a higher rate.”

While community members have expressed concern, the pastors in the town hall meeting promised that they will continue working with Lauzardo and UF Health in extending access to COVID-19 vaccinations and easing fears of community members.

Anderson said, “The Bible said people perish for lack of knowledge, so don’t miss the opportunity to get vaccinated based on misinformation and mistrust.”

About Aeja Pinto

Aeja is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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