Vaccine Availability for Clergy Varies by State - Word&Way

Vaccine Availability for Clergy Varies by State

NASHVILLE (BP) – As states continue with the initial rollout of vaccines for COVID-19, the availability for pastors depends on their location as well as the definition of “essential.”

A comprehensive list of states’ vaccination availability to clergy is not available. However, according to various reports Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Idaho, Indiana, and Illinois all currently allow clergy to receive the vaccine, as the nature of their work places them in hospitals for visitation or to administer last rites. The city of Detroit expanded its vaccine availability to include clergy after a “near tripling” of doses arrived Feb. 1.

In this Jan. 31, 2021 photo, pharmacist Diana Swiga fills a dead volume syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site at the Bronx River Houses Community Center, in the Bronx borough of New York. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Other states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Colorado also place clergy in the “essential” category for the next phase of vaccines to be administered.

“We were pleased that clergy are receiving the COVID-19 vaccination in Illinois,” Nate Adams, executive director for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said. “Pastors and ordained ministers are being treated as frontline workers, along with teachers, employees in retail settings, and others who have frequent contact with the public. We have heard reports of pastors who have received their first shots and are waiting for the second. For clergy members who choose to have the vaccination, this should provide some reassurance as they minister in their communities to families and to older church members who are especially susceptible to coronavirus infection.

“Pastors have told me the separation they have felt from church members who have needed to quarantine themselves has been challenging and sometimes disheartening, because pastors want to help. They want to be present in order to comfort and serve. This vaccination opportunity for clergy opens another door for ministry,” he added.

Keith Hinton, executive pastor of First Baptist Church in Crofton, Maryland, said he and his wife Leigh received their first vaccine shot Wednesday (Feb. 17).

“The arm got a little sore as it would with any shot of that type,” he said. “We’ve heard of some difficulties people had with scheduling an appointment, but it worked out for us.”

On Friday (Feb. 19), the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission issued an explainer on the vaccine’s availability to pastors. While many states follow federal guidelines, each is responsible for how it goes about administering those vaccines as well as categorizing recipients. That has led to controversy as to who should be seen as essential, such as when a change in California’s allocation guidelines placed marijuana industry workers ahead of teachers.

An interactive map by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows which states have created their own guidance, are following federal guidelines, or have issued no guidance at all for vaccine distribution. A list of essential workers to guide federal agencies and state governments is generated by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The ERLC reported that of the 43 states with essential orders or directives, 21 defer to the CISA definitions. However, that list can be further narrowed into subcategories.

“There are sound reasons to include clergy in the list of essential workers,” the ERLC report said. “Many pastors serve some of the same functions as groups currently performed by essential workers. Clergy, for example, provide mental health services (e.g., counseling), aid those with special needs, and even serve in the distribution of food and other resources. Some ministers are also exposed in the same way as healthcare workers. Catholic priests, for instance, are required to perform ‘last rites’ on Catholics who are dying of COVID. Many pastors may also be exposed when performing funerals.”