MACON, Ga. — For 20 Mercer students, fighting fear and misinformation over vaccines is their mission.
The Interfaith Youth Core selected them as part of students at 117 colleges across the country for the National Faith in the Vaccine Ambassadors project.
Just a few months ago, Erika Thomas, was hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I've had plenty of people in my family actually pass away from the virus. I'm actually attending a funeral tomorrow. I just knew that I couldn't continue on not getting vaccinated," Thomas said.
Thomas says she saw how COVID-19 was impacting those around her, so she began to educate herself about the vaccine.
"I had to get vaccinated to not only protect myself, but my fellow students, my family," Thomas said.
Now, she's encouraging others to do the same through the Faith in the Vaccine project.
"We are a cohort of students who were selected last May to get the word out about the vaccine and debunk some myths about the vaccine that many people may have," Thomas said.
Flaming, associate professor of religion, and Jose Pino, associate professor of Spanish, co-lead the program for Mercer.
"The Faith in Vaccine Ambassadors Project is sponsored by a group called the Interfaith Group Core. It is a group that has the idea that people of all different faith traditions and no faith traditions can work together on projects for the common good," Darlene Flaming said.
Flaming says the organization did a study that showed Black, Native American and Latinx communities and politically and religiously conservative white communities are more likely to be hesitant about the vaccine.
These groups also had a lower vaccine rate.
"The idea is that working with religious organizations such as churches... that we might be able to reach people that have the lower vaccine uptake," Flaming said.
Komal Ghandi is also an ambassador, and says variants turn up the urgency.
"Now more than ever before, I think that addressing vaccine hesitancy plays a pivotal role in helping people stay healthy. All of this stuff amounts to the country going back on track. It really does feel great to know that you are a part of a national movement," Ghandi said.
"In Georgia, according to the CDC, only 42% of the population has been fully vaccinated. So we are behind. The work that these ambassadors do, is really important," Pinto said.
So far this year, the Mercer Faith in vaccine ambassadors hosted a back to school event and a Hispanic vaccination day.
On September 11, they are partnering with One Macon to host a COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall, where they will answer questions that people have about the vaccine, and offer the vaccine to people that want it.
The Town Hall on Vaccines is at the Rosa Jackson Community Center, from 11:30 a.m. to noon. on Saturday, September 11.