A group of West Side pastors gathered on Nov. 29 outside of the JLM Abundant Life Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd., to demand that Congress prioritize Black and Brown communities during the process of distributing the COVID-19 vaccines. 

“We understand healthcare workers should be first, that those first-responders should be first, we understand that those in hospital rooms should be first, but we’re saying that since those in the African American community and the Latino community have been greatly affected by [the COVID-19 virus], we’re asking Congress to mandate the distribution of it. We should be next in line,” said Rev. John Harrell, the founder of the faith-based social service organization Black Men United.

The press conference happened a few days before a committee that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voted on Dec. 1 to designate healthcare workers and residents and workers in long-term care facilities as the first groups of people in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. The group is designated as Phase 1a, according to the CDC’s guidelines. 

The CDC designated Phase 1b vaccine recipients as essential workers, people with high risk medical conditions and adults over 65 years old. There are more than 250 million people in the United States who fall into those two categories. 

During Sunday’s press conference, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) referenced the CDC guidelines determining which groups of people should receive the initial doses of the vaccine before calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to establish a commission “to make sure” that the initial allocation of the vaccine “is done right.” 

“With all of the gunshot victims who die, there are more people dying because they don’t have access to their medicine for hypertension or asthma or diabetes,” Ford said. “So we’re saying this cannot be one of those cases where Black and Brown people don’t have access to the vaccine when it comes available.” 

Rev. Harrell said that state and federal officials should rely on trusted community institutions like churches and community groups like Black Men United to help educate people about the benefits of getting vaccinated. 

Harrell said that Black Men United has given out tons of free food to residents on the West Side and in the west suburbs since the start of the pandemic. Along with food, the organization can also distribute knowledge and build trust in the vaccine, he said. 

“The most important thing is education,” Harrell said. “What is being left out is the mistrust factor. We have to know we can trust you and be considered as equal partners.”