Why 11 Doane Tigers are showing their Faith in the Vaccine
From July to December 2021, more than 2,000 students and alumni from hundreds of universities across the United States are building a mobilization of faith communities to encourage vaccination against COVID-19. Doane University is just one of two universities in Nebraska participating in the Faith in the Vaccine initiative, with a diverse group of 11 total students and alumni drafting plans to reach fellow Tigers and their wider communities with information about the vaccines and access to vaccination clinics.
Faith in the Vaccine is an initiative launched by the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, which works toward building common values and bridging differences for people of different faiths, worldviews and traditions. This approach is particularly important in reaching communities that may have less trust in government or medical outreach around COVID-19, but may reconsider after hearing or speaking with someone in their own community.
Doane’s cohort is overseen by Dr. Leah Rediger, director of religious and spiritual life and lead educator for the FITV initiative, although she said projects are being led by the vaccine ambassadors.
“We want to reach out and figure out how we can serve the community better,” Rediger said, and hopes that local faith and community organizations considering hosting a vaccine clinic will reach out to the ambassadors for help.
Through Faith in the Vaccine, each ambassador is issued a stipend to plan and implement projects to address vaccine hesitancy and lack of access to vaccines. This individual stipend, as well as a larger amount provided to the lead educator, can be put toward costs associated with completing those projects or the time involved.
Doane ambassadors are currently planning a social media campaign, infographics about the COVID-19 vaccines, printed information pamphlets, a panel discussion on campus, and volunteering to provide logistical and Spanish-English interpreter support for area vaccination clinics.
For example, Brenna Mulvey is taking a leading role in organizing an on-campus vaccination clinic at the beginning of September. Addressing vaccine hesitancy is important to Mulvey, a senior majoring in sociology with an emphasis in criminology on Doane’s Crete campus. Mulvey was on StuCo’s COVID committee during the 2020-21 academic year, and seeing the back-end work that happened to keep classes and campus running was influential.
“It is kind of a retry for me, for the past year,” Mulvey said, of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine after spending much of her sophomore and junior year learning remotely and having limited interaction with friends and professors on campus. “And it’s going to keep my family and friends safe.”
Mulvey said she was initially concerned about whether her friends would respond negatively to her being a vaccine ambassador. But the benefits of being vaccinated are something she strongly believes outweigh the risks, particularly after learning how many years have gone into researching and creating mRNA vaccines such as the recently FDA-approved Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (now branded as Comirnaty).
“I want to help fight this pandemic by spreading correct information to people,” Mulvey said.
For Regina Sullivan, a senior business administration major with an emphasis in management at Doane-Lincoln, addressing a lack of access or barriers to accessing information and clinics is important. Prior to starting her education at Doane, Sullivan worked at the Malone Community Center, which provides inclusive social, cultural, educational, employment and welfare services in Lincoln. It’s her passion to help low-income residents, and members of Lincoln’s African American and refugee communities.
“I chose to be an ambassador because as an advocate for my people and community, I want to ensure that I am doing all I can to notice barriers to health, and want this position to help educate my community and to get a better understanding of vaccinations and the process,” Sullivan said.
There are plenty of barriers facing the communities she works with. There’s overall misinformation. There’s a lack of trust, particularly for African Americans who have faced discrimination and outright abuse at the hands of medical practitioners. And there is some ignorance as well. American healthcare was frustrating and confusing well before the pandemic.
Sullivan hopes that by working with local community centers and organizations to host a vaccine clinic, she can both share her experience in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and provide an accessible clinic at a facility trusted by the African American and refugee communities in Lincoln.
“To me, the vaccine means our overall health, getting back to normal,” she said. “It means life.”