African American pastors, community leaders partner with Parkland to overcome vaccine hesitancy


Bruce Fortner, senior pastor of The New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in south Dallas, receives his vaccination.

Bryan Carter, senior pastor of Concord Church and president of the African American Pastor’s Coalition, rolled up his sleeve on March 19 at Parkland Memorial Hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic, determined to keep himself and his family safe – but also to protect others.

As the needle with his first dose of vaccine went into his arm, he explained, “I think it’s crucial. Getting the vaccine protects your health and the health of those around you. I believe others should get vaccinated for their sake, the sake of their family, our community and for the greater good of the public. I have led funeral services for a family member, church members and friends that have died from COVID and I am committed to do anything possible to protect others from this deadly virus.”

Bruce Fortner, senior pastor of The New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in south Dallas who got his vaccination at Parkland on March 3, also has a message about protecting others.

“I want to make sure that I not only protect my family, my friends but as pastor it’s also important to be an example for other members of my church and my community. The church I pastor is a historically Black church here in South Dallas and because our membership is mostly 50 years old and older, these are the ones affected most by this pandemic,” he said.

Carter and Fortner are “preaching” the importance of vaccination, joining several dozen minority leaders partnering with Parkland Health & Hospital System to educate Hispanics and African Americans with evidence-based vaccine information delivered by trusted community members as well as medical experts. Parkland has leveraged their voices in public service announcements (PSAs), community forums, social media, earned media interviews, and other outreach opportunities. The goal is to influence skeptical or fearful members of ethnic groups who are most at risk from COVID-19 but also most hesitant to accept the vaccine.

The Texas Tribune reported on March 19 that state data shows white Texans are being vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of Hispanic Texans and more than six times the rate of Black Texans.

Parkland’s vaccination rates tell a different story. Angela Morris, Senior Director of Community Relations, believes that the health system’s “influencer vaccine campaign” is having a positive impact.

In early January when the vaccine first became available to patients in the 1B category, vaccination rates by ethnicity at Parkland were 25% Hispanic, 38% White, 13% Asian and 16% African Americans. As of March 15, Parkland’s vaccination rates were 49.1% Hispanic, 22.5% African American, 18% White and 6.1% Asian.

Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 due to multiple factors including poverty, lack of access to stable housing, food and healthcare and other social determinants of health. But cultural factors also contribute to a higher level of vaccine hesitancy among minority communities.

Known affectionately as “the mayor of South Dallas,” Willie Mae Coleman has a long history of community involvement. A Parkland patient, she serves on Parkland’s Hatcher Station Health Center Community Advisory Board and is President of the Bertrand Neighborhood Association. She has seen firsthand the devastation that COVID has caused. Coleman received her vaccine in January. She experienced some chills and headache but took a Tylenol and felt fine again within one day.

“I’ve lost loved ones and friends and saw how they suffered. I don’t want to get COVID. I decided if this shot will help me, I want the shot,” she said. “Some people say they don’t want to stand in line to get the vaccine, it’s too long a wait. I say, ‘Some things are worth standing in line for. Waiting in line is better than being in the hospital sick.’”

As a community leader Coleman agreed to record a PSA for Parkland showing her getting vaccinated and said she is spreading the message every day: “I would recommend everybody – black, white, yellow, brown, everybody – get the shot. We want to live and enjoy life and you can’t if you land sick and aren’t well. So please, if you can, go get the shot. I did.”

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