COLUMBIA, S.C. — A potential partnership could grant vaccine access to the hardest-to-reach neighborhoods in the state.
The AME Church in South Carolina is raising their hand, volunteering to set up vaccination sites in urban and rural communities alike.
In states like Florida, a pilot program initiated at the beginning of the year tapped places of worship to distribute the vaccine.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said his goal is to get more vaccines into underserved communities.
"We have the people ready, we have churches standing at the ready," explained South Carolina Representative Wendy Brawley.
Brawley, who represents areas of Richland and Sumter counties, believes the same initiative should happen here.
"If we are serious about making sure that we have given access to this vaccine to every South Carolinian, then we need to make sure we get to the rural communities," she said. "The churches are one important way to make sure we do that without having to reinvent the wheel."
Finding help from the faith community won't be difficult.
Bishop Samuel L. Green Sr., who presides over 500-plus AME churches in the state, has already offered to assist DHEC by setting up vaccine sites on church properties. He says he spoke directly with State Epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Bell.
"With our organizational structure, I believe we could be of great assistance - especially in getting the vaccine in the rural areas as well as in the rural, underserved African American populations," said Green. "The way that it's rolling out now, all hands need to be on deck."
Green says a significant issue for rural residents is transportation. Many can't travel to bigger cities to get vaccinated.
"We want to bring the vaccination sites to the people," he explained. "Encourage them to come, bring their families and neighbors, and let's get the people vaccinated."
Representative Brawley says she also spoke with DHEC officials a week ago. Both she and Bishop Green are waiting for a response from the agency to see if this faith community-government vaccine collaboration can become a reality in South Carolina.
"We just need the state to do what it needs to do to do things differently because this is a different situation," said Brawley. "Old remedies don't necessarily apply. We need to be bold and do something different to make sure we aren't leaving people behind."
"In 2021, the AME Church stands ready as it did in the Yellow Fever pandemic, to help us move forward." said Green.