Bethel AME Church hasn’t held in-person service for months, due to COVID-19.
The 156-year-old church at the corner of West Orange Avenue and Wahnish Way has partnered with the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department of Emergency Management, the 156-year-old church on ways to regulate the principal portion of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to 500 Leon County residents age 65 and up.
The first round of vaccines were for members of the church. Bethel said the vaccinations were “a special accommodation made available to Bethel’s members.”
Julius H. McAllister, the church’s minister, emphasized the church has made the opportunity to receive vaccinations open to people who are not members of the congregation.
McAllister estimated about 5% are seniors, people 65 and older. The vaccines will be available only to this age demographic, he added.
Almost 21,000 people in Leon County have received at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine, according to FloridaHealth.gov.
Throughout Florida, 1,183,012 people have received at least one shot, according to state data.
There is a drastic difference in the percentage of Black people who have received the vaccine versus white. The state health department reports that 193,356 white people have received at least one shot of the vaccine while 18,266 Black people have received at least one shot.
Bishop A.J. Richardson, who oversees the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s 11th Episcopal District, which includes Florida and the Bahamas, said it is important to make the vaccine accessible to the Black community.
Richardson is a member of a statewide COVID-19 vaccine task force spearheaded by Bethel Missionary Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr.
Holmes outlined the ”urgency for Black churches to take an active role in promoting the value of COVID-19 vaccines.”
“We are trying to encourage our church members to take the vaccine, as we are trying to get the percentages up,” Richardson explained.
“I think the Black church, and Bethel in particular, is a trusted partner, and has access and parking. This is not a gathering. This is people coming through one way and going through another way.”
The local health department is partnering with Florida A&M University’s Bragg Memorial Stadium testing site as a distribution site.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also earlier this week announced that the Florida Department of Emergency Management would partner with the state health department to reach out to places of worship to distribute the vaccine, especially in underserved communities.
“I think we’re looked upon as one of the spiritual epicenters in our city where we can ultimately reach hundreds or even thousands of people and to accommodate them in our facility,” McAllister said.