San Antonio’s faith leaders are hoping to lead by example.

More than 70 local religious leaders, including San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, have signed a statement saying they plan to get vaccinated against the new coronavirus. The move is one City officials are hoping will inspire more San Antonians to also get vaccinated.

“There was a conversation about people not necessarily trusting the vaccine,” said Rev. Ann Helmke, the City of San Antonio’s liaison to faith-based groups. “So we were thinking, ‘How do we build confidence in it? How do we help people to be patient with the vaccine coming? How do we do that?’ And so the idea came about, ‘Well, what if at least faith leaders could step up and say we’re going to trust?’”

With health officials estimating approximately 70 to 80 percent of the population will need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity, City officials are eager to encourage vaccination when supplies become available to the general population. By signing the statement of intent, local faith leaders are agreeing to “be responsible and timely in planning our own vaccinations” and to “encourage each other and all others to do likewise.” 

Many community members turn to their religious leaders to help them make important decisions such as getting vaccinated, Helmke said. With surveys showing people who follow a religion are less likely to get vaccinated, faith leaders instilling that they are confident in a vaccine will encourage community members to follow suit, she added.

“A high percentage of people, when they’re having … concerns, they go to clergy first and talk about it, so there’s this long history of people connecting with faith leadership to build their own confidence,” Helmke said.

Helmke said she and Mayor Ron Nirenberg came up with the idea of creating a statement of intent and proposed the statement to San Antonio’s religious leaders during a weekly meeting held between local faith and civic leaders. Called “The Intersection,” this weekly Zoom gathering began shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in San Antonio. The meeting typically has around 70 attendees and is held Thursday mornings, Helmke said.

A faith-based leader meeting called “The Intersection” meets weekly via videoconference. Credit: Courtesy / Ann Helmke

Since Dec. 10, local Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, and non-denominational leaders have signed the statement. More are still emailing Helmke asking to sign, she said.

“We had six more today,” Helmke told the San Antonio Report on Monday. 

As part of the agreement, faith leaders are asked to take a selfie photo while getting the vaccine to share on social media with the community. Several of the leaders who were eligible for the vaccine under the first tier have already posted their photos, Helmke said.

“I think once the word gets out even more, that even more [leaders] will come in, and that will be exciting, too,” Helmke said. “We’re not done yet and it’s only going to be together that we’re going to be able to make it through [the pandemic].”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.