In Aurora, Colorado An Ethiopian Church Becomes A Trusted COVID Vaccination Site

A woman receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine during an equity clinic held at Saint Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Aurora, Colorado on Feb. 13, 2021. (Photo: KUNC)


For months, the halls of Saint Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church have stood mostly empty.

COVID-19 restrictions prevent the congregation from sharing meals. Services are mainly held online. Holidays come and go without the usual mass celebrations.

But on a recent, chilly morning, the church’s cafeteria was once again buzzing with activity. On the menu: 300 COVID-19 vaccines specifically reserved for congregants and other immigrant and refugee residents from the community.

“I’m very happy,” said Mergersa Edeye, a longtime member of the congregation, after getting his vaccine. “Many of us wouldn’t have this opportunity otherwise.”

The church partnered with Democratic state Rep. Naquetta Ricks and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to become an equity clinic — one of dozens taking place across the state. The pop-up vaccine distribution sites are designed to help quash racial disparities emerging in the rollout.

Congregants walk through the parking lot of Saint Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Aurora. (KUNC)

A man exits the front door of Saint Mary’s Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Aurora. (KUNC)

For church leaders, the decision to host the clinic was easy.

Girma Tilahun, vice chair of the church’s board, said many congregants have encountered language or transportation barriers when trying to make appointments elsewhere. Having the clinic on site eliminates excuses not to get vaccinated.

“We educate everyone that the vaccine is important for them, just like masks,” Tilahun said. “They all know that (they need to get vaccinated) if they want to come back to the church. If they don’t take the vaccine, they’ll have to stay home.”

Still, hesitancy has been an issue. A husband and wife recently came to Tilahun and said they were suspicious of the 15-minute wait period required for all patients.

Tilahun, along with a nurse in the congregation, were able to explain it was just a safety precaution. Feeling assured, the couple went ahead with getting their doses, Tilahun said.

“It’s a small percentage (of those who don’t want it),” he said. “Most of our members do.”

Yohannes Feye, one of Saint Mary’s priests, thought getting the vaccine would be a bigger deal. But when he rolled up his sleeve during the church’s equity clinic, he was shocked.

“It’s like a regular flu vaccination,” Feye said. “I didn’t feel anything.”

Feye said the pandemic has hit his congregation hard. A lot of people have gotten sick with COVID-19. A few have died.

He wanted to get vaccinated to encourage others to do the same.

“It’s good for the community. It’s good for the country. It’s good for a lot of people’s health so we stop transmitting the virus to each other,” Feye said. ‘So I will advocate as much as I can.”

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