Black churches in Berkeley use neighborhood ties to vaccinate underserved groups against COVID-19

Religious institutions are offering COVID-19 vaccines to their communities in familiar settings.

As supply and eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine expand in Berkeley and the Bay Area, religious organizations are playing a significant role in getting vaccinations to residents who are Black or people of color, or those who need extra support to address concerns about getting inoculated.

Berkeley received authorization from the state to vaccinate everyone in underserved populations (no age or eligibility limit above 16 years old) about a month ago, and started running clinics at homeless shelters, senior homes and areas with outbreaks, like Golden Gate Fields and Berkeley Bowl. Local religious groups had already been aiding outreach for community clinics, but the city brought the vaccines to them for the first time this week in line with Alameda County, which is ramping up distribution to underserved groups through churches, temples and mosques.

As soon as he heard such mobile clinics were a possibility, in February, Minister Kevin Craddock II at South Berkeley’s Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church on Woolsey Street began advocating for his community to get one. Last Friday, he received word that the city’s Emergency Services Coordinator, Katie Hawn, had been able to make it happen. The city’s mobile clinic program at the church is run by Curative.

Somebody has to get the access for our people,” Craddock II said at the vaccination site Tuesday this week, describing the guidance he received from several other East Bay religious institutions and networks of ministers. “If we weren’t shooting off emails, I don’t know how long it could’ve taken.”


The church used social media, email newsletters and word of mouth to reach as many people as possible over the weekend, while trying to prevent a flood of appointments from people who aren’t in underserved groups. When the two-day vaccination clinic arrived on Tuesday, Craddock II was thrilled to see that the majority of the line was filled up with Black Bay Area residents, neighborhood locals and familiar faces from the church’s congregation.

“Community” for the church isn’t strictly a religious designation, explained Craddock II, who lives in North Oakland a couple blocks away. It means Woolsey Street residents, Black folks and South Berkeley neighbors, even if that includes residents who don’t attend the church.

He said a majority of the church community was eager to get the vaccine, but weeks of thoughtful conversation, patience and modeling with personal behavior (Craddock II got his vaccination recently, and joked that he hasn’t “grown a third ear yet”) helped others who weren’t as comfortable to reach their own decision about taking the vaccine.

For people who are distrustful of government services and hospitals due to a history of racism in medical care, getting the vaccine in your own church — on your own street — may be the only way some would even consider taking the shot, Craddock II said.

“Everyone should have the option. When you don’t make [vaccines] visible, you take away that option.” — Minister Kevin Craddock II

“Everyone should have the option. When you don’t make [vaccines] visible, you take away that option,” he said. “I got it, and I’m allowing you to make your decision on it.”

“The biggest thing is being safe, and protecting ourselves and living. “This is a way that we’re able to live, and we’re able to save other lives.”

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, the clinic served about 300 people through appointments and about 100 walk-ins, and it will open up again in about three weeks to give second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. More clinics at other places of worship are planned for the coming weeks.

“The beauty of a mobile clinic is that we’re bringing vaccines to people’s neighborhoods, to people’s communities, so they’re trusted organizations,” said Shoshana Gould, Bay Area regional partnerships manager for Curative. “Also, hopefully, this helps with vaccine hesitancy — there’s such a health education aspect to this pandemic that isn’t as highlighted as it should be.”

Berkeleyside spoke to several people at the church vaccination clinic this week and heard about their worries and fears over the last year of a pandemic, why they chose to get their shot and plans they’ve made for when they’re fully vaccinated. Here’s what they shared with us.

Ansbert Ayisadu, 32

a man stands in the waiting area of a Berkeley church after getting the COVID-19 vaccine
Ansbert Ayisadu is originally from Ghana and hopes to travel again once he’s fully vaccinated. Photo: Pete Rosos

Ansbert Ayisadu came down with COVID-19 in January, and said it was a stressful, isolating time given the events of the previous pandemic year. He spent 10 days alone in his room without being able to see anyone.

“Getting this vaccine is kind of a big deal for me,” said Ayisadu, who wants to travel again once he’s fully vaccinated, including to his home country of Ghana in Africa.

“I’m young, and I like to go out, and there’s so many things you can’t do when you’re at home,” Ayisadu said. “It’s depressing, and sad. You don’t know what you had until it’s gone.”

Ayisadu had been eligible for a while due to his field of work in construction, but had a very difficult time getting an appointment. That changed when a friend sent a link to the church appointment in a group chat. He said he now feels relieved and positive about the coming year.

Derrick Carr, 32

a person sitting and waiting in a chair with a mask on after getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a Berkeley church
Derrick Carr’s mom lives in Pittsburg and recently got vaccinated, and Carr hopes to see her in a more relaxed way after getting both doses of the vaccine. Photo: Pete Rosos

Sitting in the waiting area after receiving a first shot of the vaccine, Derrick Carr was adjusting to being in the bustling, highly trafficked environment of the vaccination clinic after many quiet, socially distant pandemic months.

Carr is excited to leisurely walk through a grocery store and grab lunch, see friends and visit family after being fully vaccinated in about a month. Though Carr didn’t have hesitancy around the vaccination in general, having friends who are essential workers and scientists helped further understand the need for it and to feel protected by the shot.

“I checked the science, and talked to my friends who are scientists — which, you know, I have access to, which isn’t a given,” Carr said. “I have a healthy trust in expertise, and people I know who have more expertise than me.”

Carr added that vaccine distribution at a Black church is small-scale and rooted in the community, and dissuades fears around often-cited events of racism and exploitation in the American health system, like the Tuskegee Experiment. In light of such history, though, gentleness, patience and conversation can help people reach a point where they’re comfortable with the vaccine, Carr said.

 Ethan Sawyer, 34

a man standing outside a Berkeley church after getting the COVID-19 vaccine
Ethan Sawyer said he will feel relieved once he gets his second vaccination in three weeks. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

Ethan Sawyer lives in Oakland and got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine with his girlfriend at the church site on Wednesday. He said he’ll feel relieved once he gets his second dose in three weeks, but just wants to be safe and follow COVID-19 guidance until then.

Sawyer didn’t have any mixed feelings about receiving his shot, but said medical history in his family has prompted him to read up on vaccines and understand them better. Describing himself as a homebody, he said he has benefited from time to himself in the last year, and said the pandemic year wasn’t especially tough on him, aside from the difficulties of being unemployed.

While he and his girlfriend were able to take safe, fun road trips to Pismo Beach and Palm Springs  last year, he said it will be nice to travel more and possibly fly once they’re fully vaccinated.

Courtney Stafford, 36

a woman sitting and waiting in a chair with a mask on after getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a Berkeley church
Courtney Stafford came to Berkeley from the city with her husband to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

Courtney Stafford lives in San Francisco and considers herself a “permanent transplant” from Southern California. But she has missed being able to visit her family in Santa Monica because of the coronavirus. She heard about the church vaccine appointment through a Black community newsletter and got vaccinated, along with her husband, on Wednesday.

“Yes, there’s a lot of what-ifs — they came out with the vaccine really fast, there’s all this fear going around. But, at the end of the day, I wasn’t so much worried about how COVID would affect me, but others,” she said of her decision-making process.

“I understand the history and why people would be nervous, but it’s 2021. If you can’t have faith in the medical system to do something to help you, then we’re pretty lost,” Stafford said, adding that her mother in law is a doctor who urged her to get it. “The virus is worse than what could possibly come from the vaccine, so you gotta weigh your options.”

At the same time, Stafford said she’s wary of a time when vaccines may become mandatory. Choice is important and it’s important not to take that away from people, because it could push people away who wouldn’t resist the vaccine to begin with, she said.

Derrick Eboigbodin, 31

Derrick Eboigbodin sits at the Berkeley vaccination site at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist church.
Derrick Eboigbodin found out about the church vaccination clinic from his sister, and was able to get his first shot on Wednesday. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

Derrick Eboigbodin is from Hayward and has lived in Adam’s Point, Oakland, for about eight years. He got his first dose Wednesday and said the process was pretty painless.

“[Getting vaccinated] is not really about you, it’s about protecting others too,” Eboigbodin said, adding that there probably isn’t a better alternative to the vaccine, and for young people to enjoy the same entertainment and luxuries they’re used to, vaccines will likely soon become a requirement.

He admitted that the pandemic year had been pretty positive for him on a personal level, despite the darkness of what COVID-19 wrought on the country. Eboigbodin was able to take a break from the “rat race” in a finance career, begin a master’s program in information science and use shelter in place as a chance to slow down and reflect.

With the second dose of the vaccine, he’s excited to travel again and has trips in mind to go to Tulum, Mexico, Washington, D.C., and maybe even London if restrictions are eased and COVID-19 variants aren’t as prevalent.

Jasmine Torrez and Santos Torrez

The Torrezs are excited to travel after getting their vaccine but are concerned about adverse reactions from the shots. Photo: Pete Rosos

Jasmine Torrez works for Stanford Healthcare and was first offered the vaccine before Christmas when they were first approved by the FDA. Torrez said for her, it was more of a “medical battle,” waiting to see if the pros of getting the vaccine outweighed the cons.

When it finally came down to it, the prospect of a nice vacation with her husband this summer convinced both of them to dive feet-first into getting the shot — despite concerns due to her medical history.

“Honestly, why I want to do it now, is because Hawaii is going to release some of their restrictions on travel,” Torrez said. “I was going to go with or without the vaccine, but there were a little bit less restrictions if I got it.”

She felt fine, but still very nervous after getting the shot, and said she would wait and see how everything turned out after her second dose in three weeks.

Dave Doleshal, 64

Dave Doleshal sits in the waiting area of the church vaccination clinic after receiving his shot, right across the street from his South Berkeley home. Photo: Pete Rosos

Dave Doleshal was walking to the Ashby Flea Market on Saturday when he saw signs up in his neighborhood for an upcoming vaccination clinic across the street from his house at the church. He’d been trying to get a vaccination appointment with no luck but found the perfect one close to home.

His doctors advised him that he should be careful about possible anaphylaxis, or an allergic reaction, after the vaccine due to a heart condition, but everything went smoothly after he got his shot on Tuesday.

“I’m ready to party, I used to be a really regular partier,” Doleshal said of his plans after he’s fully vaccinated.

Gatherings have been minimal and he said he’s been feeling “housebound” all year. He’s studiously observed COVID-19 case charts and trends over the last year and said things are finally starting to feel a little bit better, at least locally.

De’Angelo Wisdom, 33

De’Angelo Wisdom lives just a few miles away in West Oakland but found out about the church vaccination clinic from a friend in Los Angeles. Photo: Supriya Yelimeli

De’Angelo Wisdom doesn’t usually get the flu shot and hasn’t gotten sick in nearly 10 years, so he was a little apprehensive about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in case he had a strong immune response or felt sick. But he said the shot gets him one step closer to seeing his parents — who got vaccinated over the last few months in Chicago and haven’t visited the Bay Area in over a year.

“I’ve seen the virus impact friends, family, so I definitely want to make sure that I’m in the best position to — if it does come my way — be able to fight it,” said Wisdom, who was extra careful during the course of the pandemic both because his girlfriend is immunocompromised, and because he took the virus very seriously once he saw its impacts.

“This year is starting off a little bit better than last year did; last year was definitely a rough year,” Wisdom said. He said he experienced depression from isolation during the darkest months of the pandemic, but also picked up positive self-care practices that he hopes to carry with him into the future.

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's general assignment reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.com. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.