WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — When Senator Richard Blumenthal walked into Grace Baptist Church in Waterbury today, he tells News 8 he was truly inspired.
“I think this day, for me, in some ways, is an emotional turning point because I can see the future right here,” said Senator Blumenthal. “I can see how we’re going to conquer this pandemic.”
This wasn’t your usual weekday inside Grace Baptist. The 121-year-old church serving Waterbury’s African-American community hosted a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic. It was the senior pastor’s inspiration after losing members of the congregation to COVID last year.
“I don’t want any pastor to feel the pain that I felt last April when I lost four members in less than 48 hours,” said Pastor Reece.
There would eventually be more losses due to COVID-19, as well.
So, Pastor Reece appealed to Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and the city agreed to use Grace Baptist as one of its mobile pop up vaccination sites. It’s part of a new campaign to reach what the city calls “hard to reach” communities — like seniors and people of color.
Mayor O’Leary tells News 8 it has been a successful campaign so far. Last week, the city administered more than 50 shots at an apartment building for seniors and more than 100 shots — the max — at Grace Baptist today.
“We’ll go where it’s easy for folks,” the mayor said. “We’re going to go to some apartment buildings, as next week and the week after.”
The mayor says there’s also a plan in the works to hold another pop up clinic at another influencial, African-American church — Mt. Olive — next Friday. The church clinics are not just exclusively for members of those specific churches.
Senator Blumenthal told News 8 a number of things impressed him about the pop-up clinic at Grace Baptist Church that he says he will take back to Washington, D.C. and engage in conversations with fellow members of Congress, even officials at The White House, including President Biden.
He was particularly impressed with the city using trained firefighters to administer the vaccination shots.
“The example of the firefighters administering this vaccine is a national model because we’re short on delivery,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “We’re going to have an abundance of vaccine. We will need people to put the vaccine in people’s arms.”
He was also impressed by the fact that the church maxed out in its number of available appointments, saying trust in the church is a game changer when it comes to vaccinating people of color.
“That’s why Grace Baptist is leading by example,” he said. “We know that communities of color are receiving the vaccine at only half the rate. And yet people are dying at double the national rate.”
Senator Blumenthal says he will take what he saw and learned in Waterbury today and make sure lawmakers in Washington can learn from this successful venture.
It could be a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19 across the country.
“Grace Baptist is helping to save lives, leading by example, and reaching out and engaging in a way that is very, very important,” he said. “I am going to take this back to Washington… This clinic is our future. In the next 2, 3 months, this clinic is what we need to see all over the state of Connecticut and in the nation.”