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St. Louis church members preach science to vaccine-reluctant congregations

A sign in front of one North St. Louis church reads "Wash hands and pray - Jesus and germs are everywhere."

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Before parishioners even reach the front door of Life Center International Church COGIC, the sign at the edge of their North St. Louis property reads "wash hands and pray — Jesus and germs are everywhere." 

Church leaders said they're spreading the good word about good science to a congregation that is reluctant to accept a coronavirus vaccine.

"I told him a couple of weeks ago, 'Say you want me to talk about it, I'll talk about it.' So that's what I did," Dr. Tamara Otey, who holds her PhD in Nursing Science, said of the presentation she gave to her fellow church members Tuesday.

Otey said a couple of dozen people participated in the presentation — which covered misinformation about the vaccine — and she's gotten follow-up interest and questions.

"This is the right approach," Otey said of using the church as a vehicle for medical teachings. "I know just because I'm from the African American community and I live in North County, so I'm very familiar with the distrust of medical professionals, new medicines, etc."

Talking at a Sunday briefing, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said they have more than 318,000 people pre-registered for the coronavirus vaccine. That's about a third of the county's total population, though some applicants live outside the county. 

But a ZIP code breakdown shows the areas with the lowest number of signups are some of the same areas hit first — and hardest — during the pandemic. 

Page said the county has hired a new director of health promotion, Damon Broadus, who comes from the American Heart Association. And county leaders will now try to find partners that will help them reach key demographics.

"A lot of folks haven't signed up for the vaccine in these historically underserved areas, and we're going to intensify our efforts to recruit them, to get them interested in the vaccine, and to get the word out that it's safe and we need to get people signed up," Page said.

Otey said she knows how much of an impact church leaders can have in fighting disease through her research into HIV awareness, and she's now using her own experience — including a photo of her own vaccination — to reach others.

"You still have your rebels, but you'll have more people willing to be compliant because they have an understanding," Otey said.

Page said he'll release details of the county's mass vaccination center some time mid-week, which is planned for a to-be-determined location in North County. 

But he does add this: vaccine supply is still incredibly limited. They've only received about 5,000 doses so far.

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