Lead by example.
That’s the message faith leaders are pushing in Prince George’s County to encourage their members and residents to take the COVID-19 vaccine in a jurisdiction that continues to lead the state of Maryland with the most confirmed coronavirus cases.
“If you’re a leader and you’re not influencing someone, then you’re going for a long walk by yourself,” said the Rev. Charles Whitaker, pastor of River of Life Church in Temple Hills. “It’s important to know that there are people who are willing to listen to you. To follow your decision-making. It’s a weighty thing but it’s also an important thing. As pastors . . . we have to do our homework because we know our voice matters.”
Whitaker and his wife, Cheryl, received a vaccine Tuesday at First Baptist Church of Glenarden. The church in Upper Marlboro will partner with the University of Maryland Capital Region Health to house a community vaccination clinic inside the church’s 63,000-square-foot Family Life Center.
The goal will be to provide up to 200 doses per day for the first two weeks from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Starting March 29, it will expand to offer nearly 1,000 doses Monday through Friday.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who toured the clinic Tuesday, said “a fairly dramatic increase” from the federal government expects to arrive around that time.
“The month of April is going to look a whole lot different than the month of March,” he said. “We’re going to take it to a whole other level.”
Still, the state continues to receive some criticism for vaccine equity.
State Health Department data shows nearly 19 percent of Prince George’s residents received either a first or second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. That percentage ranks last in the state among the 23 counties and Baltimore City.
A Maryland Equity Task Force led by Brigadier General Janeen Birckhead seeks to increase that percentage with assistance from community organizations and churches hosting clinics such as First Baptist.
“Health is what most of our people are challenged with,” said the Rev. John K. Jenkins, Sr., pastor of the church. “The Bible clearly speaks about taking care of your health and take care of your bodies. We’re fulfilling the biblical mandate . . . to help people live better. This is something that will help save lives.”
Lillie West, a member of First Baptist who lives in neighboring Charles County, couldn’t agree more.
West, who plans to volunteer at the clinic, said she’s tried to get a vaccine since Feb. 4 through the Charles County Health Department. But with the church’s assistance, she was finally able to register through their website to schedule an appointment and received her shot in the arm Tuesday.
“Nothing to it,” said West, who turned 66 last week, after she received the vaccine. “This was easier [than getting] the flu shot. I’m a girly girl and needles and me do not mix. Now I can relax and know that I am protected in some way.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment, go to www.fbcglenarden.org/vaccine or https://www.umms.org/capital/coronavirus/get-vaccine. A hotline will be established soon for those with limited or no internet access.