CLEVELAND — Dr. R.A. Vernon is the pastor and founder of Word Church. He said on a typical Sunday, pre-pandemic, his church can fit anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people
Now, his words, reach people far beyond just Northeast Ohio, as he broadcasts out on The Word Church’s YouTube channel.
“I’ve worked hard to gain that respect,” he said.
He said when it’s his turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, he’ll broadcast that, too, to his followers.
“If I can cash in my chips by saying ‘Okay, if I’m taking it, then you take it,’” said Vernon.
He said while the vaccine is new, he’s working to combat medical mistrust in the Black community that dates back decades.
“It would be naivety and insensitivity to not, at least, speak to the Tuskegee experiment,” he said.
The Tuskegee experiment was a study where hundreds of Black men with syphilis went untreated for 40 years, without their consent, to study the disease.
“Even though that was some time ago, things like that become ingrained into people’s psyche and sometimes there’s a bit of suspicion,” said Vernon.
Dr. Troy Woodard, a surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic and a member of The Word Church, has seen this suspicion in his community firsthand.
When he received his first dose of the vaccine, he shared it on social media.
“I posted a selfie and tried to do an explanation of why I think it’s important, why I trust the vaccine, why I trust the science and the scientists,” he said
He encouraged anyone who is hesitant, to ask him about it.
“Explain to them that times are different. It’s not like before,” said Woodard.
He said it’s imperative people of color get the vaccine because Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white Americans.
“I’ve had friends and friends of friends who were young and healthy, who have died,” he said.
He said the key to a big turn out is getting the word out.
“Show them, hey this Moderna vaccine was designed by an African American scientist and it’s been vetted and it’s been not only tested on minority but also majority, people of all nationalities, and it’s safe,” said Woodard.
Getting the word out is something Pastor Vernon does best. He’s even volunteered his church to be a distribution site when the time comes.
“We’ve been in negotiations all week long about becoming a place where persons of color, persons of all colors, can come in the community and take the shot,” said Vernon. “Most persons know we need some kind of remedy. We need some kind of vaccine. It’s what we pray for.”