WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Michael Harris is a three-time cancer survivor. Despite being immunocompromised, he was hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

What You Need To Know

  • Because of historical injustices in society and the healthcare system, communities of color seem to be more hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Throughout Ohio, Black residents have been vaccinated at a lower percentage than white residents, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health

  • The Word Church in Warrensville Heights partnered with Cuyahoga County Health Department to bring COVID-19 vaccines to minority communities

  • The senior pastor at The Word Church is working to bridge the vaccine race disparity gap by hosting a vaccination clinic at the church

“I was very hesitant because it was so fast. We had this pandemic that came out of nowhere that we were not prepared for as a country. And then the vaccination comes out of nowhere and that's the way it was portrayed,” said Harris. 

Harris said misinformation, fear, and distrust lead him to be hesitant to get the vaccine. 

“African Americans are very hesitant about vaccinations right now, very hesitant about the healthcare system. The disparities in the treatment right now, currently in this country on how hospitals treat African-Americans and people of color in comparison to how they treat whites is astounding,” said Harris. “That information is out there is not a myth. It is legitimate information. And so we just don't have a lot of trust. I don't have a lot of trust.”

At The Word Church in Warrensville Heights, Dr. R.A. Vernon is the founder and senior pastor. He is working to ease some of that mistrust. The church is working with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to communities that often aren’t prioritized. 

“My primary ministry starts on the chocolate side of the city, but it doesn't end there. Jesus loves everyone," Vernon said. "I was so glad when the president said that by July, there'll be enough vaccines for every American. Sadly, when you're an African-American pastor, you have to concentrate on your community because sometimes others don't."

Front-line workers of every race are invited to get their vaccine at The Word Church, but Dr. Vernon’s outreach is focusing on minority communities. He is hoping to build trust and ease fear in minority communities. 

“I fought hard to build my name, to have a kind of integrity, though imperfect, hoping that there are thousands of persons who watch us on television every morning, watch all over YouTube, social media who say he's a trusted voice," said Vernon. "I trust that ministry. Pastor Vernon took it, I am taking mine. If that works for one person who believes that if I take it it’s a good shot, it's worth it for me." 

According to coronavirus.ohio.gov, Cuyahoga County has vaccinated more than13% of its population as of Feb. 28.

About 15% of white residents and only about 6% of Black residents have been vaccinated in Cuyahoga County.  

Throughout Ohio, 13% of white residents and 6% of Black residents have been vaccinated. 

Dr. Vernon is hosting vaccination clinics in hopes of raising that Black vaccination percentage.

“Everybody kept hearing about this vaccine, but I was meeting Black people who had no idea on where to get it. It was just abstract. This wonderful vaccine, this made it more practical. It made it more accessible,” said Vernon. 

Harris is the chief operations officer at The Word Church. Seeing Pastor Vernon receive his vaccine as well as other trusted members of the community helped put him at ease. Harris has received his second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. In the end he trusts science, as he said science has saved his life before.

“The same way with the vaccination. The day of that day, I made the decision to go ahead and take it because my life is on the line. We believe in medication. We believe in science. We also believe in Jesus,” said Harris. 

Vaccinations at The Word Church are by appointment only. Starting in March vaccinations will take place at the church on the fourth Saturday of each month. More information can be found on wordcity.org.