By Anneliese Esparza
SAN BERNARDINO—While many, including some Catholics, are hesitant to receive the vaccine for a variety of reasons, the messaging from the Church has been clear – the vaccine is morally acceptable, and Catholics should get vaccinated to keep others safe.
Accordingly, the Diocese continues to make a priority of promoting the vaccines. In June, Bishop Alberto Rojas issued a video message on the importance of getting vaccinated. “Right now, this is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, to protect ourselves and our loved ones from sickness, and to return our society to normalcy,” the Bishop said in the video.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ontario, Father Roberto Flores, pastor, decided to organize a virtual Q&A in Spanish to answer his parishioners’ questions about the vaccine. Dr. Daniel Gluckstein, the Medical Director for Infectious Diseases at Pomona Valley Hospital Center, answered medical questions and José Luis Elias, the Director of the Diocesan Office of Education and Formation, answered questions about Catholic teaching on the vaccine.
“There has been a lot of confusing information circulating around on social media. It was very important to bring the questions into a place where parishioners could really interact with experts they know are reliable,” said Elias, who said that over 100 parishioners submitted questions for the event.
On a more hands-on level, the Diocese has been partnering with the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside to combat COVID-19 since spring 2020, when it began hosting testing sites in its parishes. When the vaccines became available months later, the focus shifted to helping get people vaccinated. To date, 21 parishes in Riverside County and 24 in San Bernardino County have hosted a vaccination site. Some sites are only up for a day or two, while others are open for five days.
Parishes are selected to host a testing or vaccination site based on location (prioritizing areas where vaccine rates are low or where there are underserved communities) and willingness on the part of the parish. The county operates the site completely, including set-up, sanitizing and testing or vaccinating.
St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Rialto hosted a vaccination clinic July 19-23. Debbie Aguilera, the parish’s business administrator, said she had been trying to get a vaccine clinic set up at St. Catherine for a while.
“For the last eight months, I have been trying to get an agency to come and provide the vaccine to the community. Thanks to the persistence of [Emergency Operations Collaborative Director] Ann Marie Gallant at the Diocese, we happened to connect on a day that some other parish cancelled and presto, we were up and running,” said Aguilera.
Once the dates for the clinic were set, parish staff began working to get the word out to parishioners. “To advertise, we made 800 copies of the flyer provided to us from the county and gave them out at Masses. We also included this information in the parish Facebook account, gave out copies at our food distribution and I emailed all the leaders in the community about this event and instructed them to let their members know,” said Aguilera.
Aguilera encourages everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. “If you are hesitant to receive the vaccine, ask yourself this one question: Would I want my family to be exposed to COVID from someone who didn’t believe in the benefits of this vaccination? I personally went through this last December and was close to death because someone did not receive the vaccination. Please get vaccinated! Do it for the next generation,” she said.
For one man who visited St. Catherine’s vaccine clinic, Olegario Garcia, getting the vaccine was important because he and his family contracted COVID-19 in January. “The disease is dangerous, but some people do not believe because it has not affected them,” said Garcia.
One woman, Sonia Quezada, had been vaccinated earlier but brought her brother and sister to get their shots. Quezada said she was confident that the vaccines were safe and recommends that people get vaccinated. “[People] should come and get vaccinated, first for their own benefit, for their family and then for others, so that we can end with this pandemic,” she said.
To find a place to receive a vaccine near you, visit vaccines.gov/search and enter your zip code.
Anneliese Esparza is the Managing Editor of The Inland Catholic BYTE.