For Immediate Release

Partnering With Faith-Based Organizations to Combat COVID-19 in Jamaica

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A sign advertising Bethel Baptist's vaccination services. (Photo: Bethel Baptist Church)
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A sign advertising Bethel Baptist's vaccination services. (Photo: Bethel Baptist Church)

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Jamaica has struggled to vaccinate its population against COVID-19.  Since vaccines became available in 2021, only 26 percent of Jamaicans have been vaccinated – a far cry from the country’s goal of 65 percent by March 2022. Vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine sentiments, driven by the spread of misinformation, have been flagged by health authorities as the main reasons for the low take-up.

Religious communities were among the victims of the misinformation, with many of the country’s Christians believing the vaccines represented “the mark of the beast.” In response, the government called on church leaders to play a more prominent role in the country’s vaccination effort.

Bethel Baptist Church is among those that stepped up. “When the vaccines came, Bethel knew we needed to be a part of the response to vaccinate our members and reduce the long lines at public vaccination centers,” said vaccination team leader and Deacon Joan Mars.

“From the pulpit, our pastor has been clear that we trust the science,” she said. It’s a profound message, delivered from a religious authority to his congregants.

Bethel prides itself on seeking to meet the spiritual, social, and physical needs of members and the wider community. Its community services include vocational training, feeding the homeless, and providing legal advice through its legal aid clinics. It also has a health clinic that provides clinical care, health education, and support for behavioral change.

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Strengthening Bethel’s Capacity

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The Local Health System Sustainability Project (LHSS) has worked with the Government of Jamaica to develop a private sector model to strengthen the country’s COVID-19 response and reduce strain on the public sector. As part of this work, LHSS provides direct technical and financial assistance, in the form of grants, to Bethel Baptist and seven other private health care providers. This assistance is helping the grantees expand their efforts on behalf of the government’s COVID-19 goals – and contributing to the kind of organizational capacity development that will enable them to better support the Jamaica health system over the long-term.  

With grant funding, Bethel Baptist purchased equipment required to meet the MOHW standards for cold chain management and safe delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. The purchases included laptops, tablets, ice packs, thermometers, and refrigerators. Because of the partnership between MOHW and LHSS, the church benefited from MOHW trainings on national vaccination standards for cold chain management, infection prevention and control, and management and reporting of adverse vaccine effects.

LHSS also collaborated with the private providers to address the pervasive issue of vaccine hesitancy. LHSS offered communications capacity-development trainings on identifying and targeting key audiences, developing appropriate messaging, and tailoring communications for various audience identities.

“LHSS has undoubtedly contributed significantly to our efforts at providing whole person care for our members and other persons using the services,” Ms. Mars shared. She added that the trainings “were useful not only for the project, but also for future activities.”

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Results

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Bethel’s participation in Jamaica’s COVID-19 response has yielded positive results. In the first three months of the project, Bethel vaccinated over 263 people, many of whom were previously vaccine hesitant.

“Many people who originally said they were not going to take the vaccine have started to come in,” Ms. Mars said.

LHSS’s support enabled Bethel to leverage its communications platforms to expand its reach and deliver pro-vaccine messages to the audiences who need them most. The church broadcasts its vaccination services on television, Christian radio stations, and YouTube. It placed signs prominently around the church compound. And it partnered with five other churches in the populous St. Andrew parish to encourage all congregants to get vaccinated.

“The opportunity to contribute to the achievement of the Government of Jamaica’s target of vaccinating 65 percent of the population fits into our church’s mandate of providing a service that people need at a cost they can afford,” said Bethel pastor the Rev. Dr. Glenroy Lalor.

Bethel will continue to support the country’s vaccination efforts as they partner with Health Connect Jamaica, another program that is receiving support from the LHSS Jamaica project. Now the church is conducting an assessment of public attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination, a tool they’ll use guide their continued vaccination efforts.

With new equipment, specialized trained staff, and access to additional funding, Bethel is now in a better position to expand the type of social services they offer. They are also able to increase their revenues, which will enable them to sustainably offer these services well beyond the LHSS Project.