State reaching out to minority, faith communities to spread word about vaccination importance

Bishop Demmer: There's paranoia regarding vaccines
Posted at 10:53 PM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 08:25:08-05

DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wants to reach out to minority communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage vaccination.

But that may be easier said than done.

Many churches ministering to minorities have had conversations about the pandemic. Some have talked about vaccines.

The president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, Bishop Jerry Demmer, said there is a lot of historic paranoia in the black community about vaccines.

He said much of that paranoia stems from the Tuskegee Experiment which began in the 1930s.

"You have minorities, especially African Americans, who are very much paranoid about being guinea pigs," he said.

The Tuskegee experiment began as a study to learn about the progression of untreated syphilis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service without the patients' consent. The patients did not receive the treatment needed to cure the illness.

The experiment was projected to last six months, but actually lasted 40 years.

Demmer said there is also paranoia from a spiritual standpoint, when it comes to contact tracing.

He referenced the Book of Revelations and the "mark."

"This is what the Bible is talking about that you're going to chip everybody, be able to trace everybody, and not be able to buy, sell or trade. If you're not vaccinated, you're going to be shut down," he said.

Demmer said it's a great thing to have vaccines, but the concern is what's behind them.

"Should we trust it? Or do we need to look at more research before we take that voluntary step?" he asked.

Jewish Pastor Michael Walker feels the same way. He ministers to a "dual expression" congregation at Church in the City - Beth Abraham.

He said they have contemporary Sunday worship services and a Messianic Jewish expression of worship on Saturdays in the old, restored Synagogue at 16th and Gaylord.

"I believe the church should be a place that the community can find answers and hope," he said.

Walker said Church in the City is not taking a political position on the pandemic or vaccines, but they want to be wise in what they do.

"On Dec. 19, we're going to be opening up our church here, with social distancing, masks and so forth, to have a clinic where we offer free COVID testing for those in need," Walker said.

He said this will be the first step in "identifying where people are at, as far as the vaccine goes."

He said since the vaccine isn't out for general distribution yet, "this is a good time for those who are open, to be watching, to see what the effects are on certain people, before it becomes widely available."

Denver7 also reached out to the Muslim community.

Imam Jodeh, of the Colorado Muslim Society, said Muslims make up a quarter of the world's population, and number at least 100,000 in Colorado, but "we're not one monolithic community."

She said Muslims can be African American, African refugee, Arab, Pakistani, southeast Asian, Latin and more.

"We don't have one identity," she said.

Jodeh said the Muslim Society's Mosque, on South Parker Road, was one of the first houses of worship to close back in March because of the pandemic.

"The Muslim community has done a wonderful job, especially at the Colorado Muslim Society, of making sure that we are protecting our congregants, and that we are following the guidelines of not only the governor, but of the State Department of Public Health & Environment. We do this because we have an obligation to our community, and our neighbors to take care of the health of ourselves and others," she said.

Jodeh said they haven't received any questions about vaccines yet, but noted that the Muslim Society has a long-standing relationship with health institutions throughout Colorado and Arapahoe County.

"While I can’t speak for everyone’s choice to take the vaccine or not, I do think that many people will look at this as a public health emergency, and this is how we can work together to overcome it," she said.