An Aberdeen church is reaching worldwide audiences on a mission to dispel the fear around the Covid vaccine.
Pastors at the City Of God Church have taken bold action to encourage their congregation to take up the offer of the jab – even inviting the NHS into the Holburn Street centre to administer them.
Last month, 85 people – including Pastor Joe Ochei – were vaccinated, in an effort to improve confidence among the community.
It comes as health authorities estimate seven in 10 Africans living in Scotland and aged over 50 have received their first vaccination.
Uptake among all over 50s in Scotland is nine in 10 – leaving uptake among the country’s African population the lowest of any ethnic group.
Pastor Ochei was the first in line when the vaccinators arrived – with images of him being given his injection already sent across to Africa to try to break the stigma there.
He told us: “I hope seeing their pastors – me – leading by example and taking the vaccine, it gives the congregation the confidence and courage to accept theirs.
“We had 85 people were vaccinated in the church which was a great first step.
“There had been a lot of hesitation from the African community in embracing the vaccine because of disinformation coming from different channels.
“We contacted NHS Grampian and started a campaign to shed the lies and baseless information about the vaccine.
“It has helped to reduce hospitalisations and helps us to protect ourselves and others; we are part of the general community so it’s wise we take it when offered.”
The church will welcome NHS Grampian back again a week on Thursday, with hopes as many as 200 people could attend.
Within the first weekend of bookings, 35 have signed up.
Given the ease of worldwide communications, Zoom services and seminars have also become popular – truly taking the reach of the NHS Grampian staff to the global stage.
Pastor Ochei added: “There was a reluctance in the community and when we realised that we conducted a seminar to talk with doctors and GPs from within the African community.
“They mentioned they had taken the vaccine themselves and had looked at it and seen there was no underlying agenda with it.
“We took pictures and have prepared a report which we have sent to Africa, showing we are working with the NHS and are receiving the vaccine and do not feel any ill effects.
“And we are saying the conspiracies they are hearing are false; we are living examples that there is no underlying negative agenda about the vaccine.
“We are pushing that to all of Africa so if they are offered the vaccination there will be no hesitancy.”
The effort to reduce the suspicion in Africa will have been aided by the number of families, visiting to see children at university in the city, who took up the chance be vaccinated at the church too.
A “good number” of Indian and Pakistani people – from outwith the church community – also attended: people Pastor Ochei feared would have “fallen through the cracks” otherwise as they are not registered with GPs.
Lord Provost Barney Crockett, who previously shared images from his trip to the mass vaccination centre at P&J Live, was there to see Pastor Ochei get his jab.
He was full of praise for the initiative of NHS Grampian and the church, having noted the worrying statistics about African uptake of inoculation.
Mr Crockett said: “I think it is fair to say the NHS vaccinators were taken aback by the response.
“Sometimes you expect some of these things to have a token response by the staff were very busy.
“It’s a fantastic attitude from the congregation of the City Of God and it shows we are delivering services to the African community.
“Aberdeen has been the second biggest destination for Nigerians after London, and they are a valuable part of our community.
“The key is the links are very strong between public authorities and the communities, particularly through the churches.
“It’s really paying off now and I would urge people to come forward for the session on May 13.”