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Enelida Gomez, a nurse at CHOP, receiving the Moderna vaccine during a December 2020 trial. Now, Penn Medicine and Mercy Catholic Medical Center have partnered with Black faith leaders to administer the Moderna vaccine to around 500 West Philadelphia residents. Credit: Courtesy of Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine and Mercy Catholic Medical Center partnered with Black faith leaders to administer COVID-19 vaccines to city residents this weekend.

Around 500 West Philadelphia residents were administered their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on the morning of Feb. 13, 6ABC Action News reported. Vaccinations took place at the Church of Christian Compassion, and vaccines were distributed to residents in priority 1a and 1b groups. Around 20% of Saturday's vaccines were reserved for those who lacked internet access to register online for an appointment. 

Chief Operating Officer of Penn's Health System Phil Okala told 6ABC that there have been racial disparities in the vaccine rollout within Penn's hospital system, and to address this issue, he needed to reach West Philadelphia residents directly.

"White colleagues were scheduling their vaccine at a much higher rate than their Black colleagues, so it was quite dramatic," Okala told 6ABC.

A history of mistrust within medical practices has left many Black people cautious towards doctors, so health care workers hope that faith leaders can help the local community surpass the barrier and provide necessary support to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, 6ABC reported.

Mercy Medical Center President Chris Cullom told 6ABC that partnering with faith leaders in the community is an important step in making people comfortable receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

"When you talk about people that are trusted in the community, the faith leaders are at the top of the list," Cullom told WHYY.

At a virtual event last month, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives Ezekiel Emanuel and top Penn administrators discussed how Black and Latinx people are three and a half to four times more likely to be hospitalized than white people due to COVID-19 complications.

Penn Medicine will conduct two more vaccination events in partnership with the local faith community, according to a press release.