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How The Urban League Chips Away At Vaccine Hesitancy, One Shot At A Time

Maria Fabrizio

This morning at the St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church in midtown St. Louis, Fred Scott got his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Many of his immediate family members got their shots earlier this year after Scott's cousin died of the disease.

"I'm the only one that was a knucklehead and didn't do it," Scott said. “I always said and prayed that God would provide a vaccine for COVID, and I was going around promoting and telling people that when we get the vaccine everybody should take it. But when we got it, I’m one that never went out to receive it.”

Scott said he was hesitant because he was fearful of possible side effects from the vaccine (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes serious side effects are extremely unlikely).

The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis is combating vaccine hesitancy one person at a time. As the fast-spreading delta variant took hold in the St. Louis area this summer, the organization opened three new clinics in St. Louis and north St. Louis County.

How The Urban League Chips Away At Vaccine Hesitancy, One Shot At A Time

That was an extension of an earlier effort in March in which a similar Urban League initiative with the Missouri National Guard distributed vaccines at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park and the Dellwood Recreation Center. The effort helped vaccinate more than 41,000 people, including school staffers, hotel employees, grocery store workers, postal workers and senior citizens.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske talked with James Clark, the Urban League’s vice president of public safety and community response. He discussed what it takes to persuade members of the Black community to get the vaccine.

“When you look at the urban core, and when you look in particular at the African American community, there is an information gap — and so we work to fill that gap,” Clark said. “I was listening to one of the subject matter experts saying that this is now a pandemic amongst the unvaccinated. So as long as we are below what is necessary to reach herd immunity, we have to make the vaccines available.”

He explained that the three new clinics are in neighborhoods where the spread of the delta variant is more pronounced.

“So the neighborhood response is strong, but then we do have to have the ability to engage [people] and have a conversation with them about their status, and then invite them to come and get vaccinated,” he said. “We respect them if they don't want to get vaccinated, but we need to have the vaccines accessible for individuals that are looking to get vaccinated.”

The three Urban League vaccine clinics aim to offer 1,000 shots a day. They’re open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

  • St. Alphonsus Liguori "Rock" Catholic Church (1118 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63106)
  • Northwest High School (now called Big Picture High School) (5140 Riverview Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63120)
  • Greater St. Mark's Family Church (9950 Glen Owen Drive, St. Louis, MO 63136)

Clark also discussed other Urban League initiatives, such as the year-old Serving Our Streets program. “Grill to Glory” is part of that initiative and helps more than 100 churches grill free hotdogs for residents every Saturday.

Clark said due to its success so far, the Urban League brings other resources to those events such as BJC health screenings and job fairs. Some household supplies are also available including light bulbs, food boxes, clothes, toiletries and school supplies.

“We see this being on the front end of crime and violence, because crime and violence comes when there's no real unity within the neighborhood. So we're going to begin to organize the block, hold weekly and monthly neighborhood block meetings, so there can be some accountability, so we can talk to the mother whose son is being a little mischievous, just as the neighbors did with James when he was a young boy,” Clark said, referring to himself.

“So we just are harkening back to a time past when the neighborhood was solid and we see the neighborhood church being that anchor.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.