HMH to begin giving COVID-19 vaccine shots in African American churches this morning

Health system will give shots Thursday at St. Matthew AME in Orange, Friday at Trinity Temple in Newark

Hackensack Meridian Health, in an attempt to increase the percentage of vaccination in underserved communities, is beginning a program to bring COVID-19 vaccines to African American churches throughout the state, starting Thursday morning in Orange.

Hackensack officials will be at Saint Matthew AME Church at 336 Oakwood Ave. in Orange from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday. On Friday, they will be at Trinity Temple, at 35 Hillside Ave. in Newark, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The vaccines are being provided free of charge.

Additional vaccination sites will be announced for next week.

Hackensack Meridian Health CEO Bob Garrett said the system hopes to provide vaccinations for the congregants and the neighboring communities.

“The best way to defeat this pandemic is to have as many people vaccinated as possible, especially as variants are contributing to an increase in cases,’’ Garrett said. “We are proud to collaborate with New Jersey’s African American clergy to expand our vaccination efforts, and we continue to remind the public that the vaccines are also highly effective against COVID-19 variants.”

Members of underserved communities, noting a history of inequities when it comes to vaccines, have been slower to get the COVID-19 shot.

A poll released last month by the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Black Americans say they will definitely or probably get a COVID-19 vaccine, including 15 % who already have, compared with 69% of white adults, 70% of Hispanic adults and 91% of Asian adults.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Black life expectancy has fallen 2.7 years from pre-pandemic levels, compared with one year for the overall population — a stark reminder of the virus’ disproportionate impact on Black Americans.

The Rev. Joseph V. Thelusca of Mount Olivet Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Neptune said he understood the issue.

“I was very hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said. “But, as I learned more about how safe it is, I decided to get the vaccine so I could be a role model for my family. If I were to get the vaccine, I know others would follow — and that is very important to me as an individual and for our community.”

Dr. Regina Foley, the senior vice president integration/transformation for HMH and the person overseeing the system’s vaccine rollout, said the organization is excited by the program.

“We are thrilled to expand the opportunity to offer this vital protection in the community and make vaccination as convenient as possible,’’ she said. “We are working with many other congregations in New Jersey and plan to expand this winning strategy in coming weeks.”