The CoVPN Faith Initiative

By: Stephaun Wallace, PhD, HVTN Core, Seattle, WA, USA

With many communities across the U.S. disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) is very excited to share that we have launched a new, national faith-based program called the CoVPN Faith Initiative to build trust and engage diverse populations about COVID-19 and CoVPN clinical trials. This initiative is one of many strategies we have deployed to meaningfully engage and include communities in the research process.

Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, head of the Metropolitan International Church in Nashville, TN, will lead the CoVPN Faith Initiative and coordinate the work of seven Faith Ambassadors and more than 30 clergy-consultants from Black, Latinx and American Indian/Alaska Native communities throughout the nation.

Charged with implementing a faith-focused COVID-19 and CoVPN education program that supports inclusive engagement of members in key communities, the Faith Ambassadors will expand existing faith networks to conduct educational webinars, community town hall meetings and share information through existing faith gatherings, programs and support groups.

Engaging the Media:

The CoVPN Faith Initiative was announced at a virtual press conference on Sept. 9 and attended by more than a dozen national reporters from major news outlets such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Science. Following the press conference, a news release was issued to media outlets across the country.

Speakers at the press conference included Rev. Sanders, two Faith Ambassadors: Bambi Gaddist, DrPH, CEO & Founder and Executive Director of the South Carolina HIV Council in Columbia; Ulysses W. Burley III, MD, Founder of UBtheCure, in Chicago, IL; and myself. Here are a couple of stories that have run to date: Scripps Newswire (includes approximately 60 TV stations in 42 markets) and CBS This Morning.

CoVPN Faith Ambassadors:

With decades of experience in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Rev. Sanders, each of the seven Faith Ambassadors, and I, will leverage what we have learned to build trust and “engage everyone so that when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, it is effective for all people,” noted Rev. Sanders. Key efforts will include involving and expanding existing faith networks to help conduct educational webinars, community town hall meetings and share information through existing faith gatherings, programs and support groups. To date, six Faith Ambassadors have been named, as follows:

  • Khadijah Abdullah, Executive Director of Reaching All HIV+ Muslims in America (RAHMA),Washington, DC
  • Bishop Oliver Clyde Allen III, Senior Pastor and Founder of The Vision Cathedral of Atlanta.,Atlanta, GA
  • Ulysses W. Burley III, M.D., Founder of UBtheCure, Chicago, IL.
  • Bambi W. Gaddist, DrPH, CEO & Founder and Executive Director of the South Carolina HIVCouncil in Columbia, SC
  • Rev. Kamal Hassan, Pastor of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, Richmond, CA
  • Rev. Bertram G. Johnson, Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY

Call to Action:

As stakeholders, our readers play an important role in educating your respective organizations and communities on the vital work of the CoVPN, including the CoVPN Faith Initiative. It’s important that we listen, learn and develop the partnerships that enable us to enhance trust and meaningfully engage key communities.

To assist you in your efforts, we’ve provided helpful information on the COVID-19 Prevention Network’s website, including COVID-19 clinical studies, how people can volunteer, and a detailed “FAQ,” or most frequently asked questions about the studies.

Should you have any questions or need further information about the CoVPN Faith Initiative or other CoVPN stakeholder engagement strategies and programs, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.

Stephaun E. Wallace, PhD

Director of External Relations, COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (CoVPN)/HVTN Staff Scientist, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutch Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Global Health, University of Washington

Director, Office of Community Engagement, UW/Fred Hutch Center for AIDS Research