(RNS) — With collaboration and support from civic and community leaders across the country, President Joe Biden recently announced a “Month of Action” between June 4 and July 4, with the goal to increase vaccination rates to 70% of American adults before July Fourth.
At Interfaith Youth Core, the Month of Action could not have come at a better time. IFYC has been working throughout the spring with civic organizations, colleges and universities, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago to train 2,000 people from diverse faith backgrounds to engage in vaccine outreach in their religious communities.
These Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors, as we call them, are based on the community health worker model, proven to be effective from Haiti to Bangladesh, and are trained to engage people through their religious and ethnic communities.
IFYC’s core belief is that religiously diverse communities are foundational to America’s strength and that working together, these communities have incredible potential to advance the common good. These racially and religiously diverse young leaders are giving us much-needed hope right now.
When we win in our battle against the virus, it will be because of people like a young Indian Hindu in Los Angeles messaging 10 people in his network who have expressed skepticism about the vaccine, offering experience he thinks will be comforting to them. Or an African American Muslim in Chicago organizing an event at her mosque for congregants who want to know if the Prophet Muhammad would have encouraged the vaccine.
Or a white evangelical Christian in rural Minnesota who is creating an online discussion board so people in his network can discuss Curtis Chang’s videos about the Bible and the vaccine.
Person-to-person engagement matters most as we enter the long, last mile of our fight against COVID-19. Indeed, the current work is not principally about mass vaccination centers, which are closing by the day. Instead, it’s about trusted messengers reaching skeptical, uninformed, or reasonably concerned people through trusted channels.
These trusted messengers offer a valuable touchpoint, including a listening, sympathetic ear to understand concerns, simple but accurate scientific information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, and often, values-based inspiration about the importance of receiving it.