FARMVILLE — Separating fact from fiction on the COVID-19 vaccine and virus was the aim of an April 21 town hall in Farmville.

Dr. Michelle Laws, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services assistant director for consumer policy, led the session hosted by Salvation and Praise Full Gospel ministry and the nonprofit CAREE (Citizens Advocating for Racial Equity and Equality).

Participants attended in person, via Zoom and on Facebook Live.

“There has been a lot of misinformation and myths in the community as it relates to COVID vaccines, particularly, since Johnson and Johnson was pulled,” said CARREE founder Tonya Foreman. “That has made people hesitant. We wanted to address that.”

Ed Edwards of Salvation and Praise said he was concerned after hearing from his members of congregation that they were choosing not to be vaccinated and felt the church needed to be more proactive.

As of Monday, 30.2% of Pitt County residents have received the first dose of the vaccine and 27.3% had been fully vaccinated.

In Greene County, less than a third of the population —29.3% — has received their first dose while 24.6% are fully vaccinated.

The data shows COVID is hitting historically marginalized populations harder, according to Laws.

“We knew coming into this pandemic, it didn’t create health the disparities. It illuminated the fault lines of inequality,” Laws said.

Generational health conditions, under-representation and the fact that historically marginalized populations make up a large number of essential and front-line workers play into the higher percentages, she said.

Many front-line workers or essential workers may not have paid time off or sick leave. They may also be working multiple jobs, Laws said.

“What happens is the likelihood they won’t get tested because they don’t want to know. ‘I’ve got to keep working. I feel alright so I’m going to keep working,’” she said.

There are also historical medical triggers on this population preventing them from wanting to receive the vaccine, Laws said, pointing to medical trials that were carried out on the African-American population.

Pausing the Johnson and Johnson vaccine also caused alarm after a blood clot side effect was reported in a small number of women, Laws said.

The quickness of the vaccine’s development is also an issue for some people, Laws said.

But vaccine development has taken place for years. Due to the pandemic, it was given priority, she said.

Laws compared the creation of the vaccine to building a mansion.

“If someone said to me, ‘Dr. Laws you could build a mansion but you can only could use money in your bank account right now.’ It’s going to take me years,” Laws said.

If they said money was not issue, “I could have the mansion built in months,” she said.

“Once the U.S. government said it was going to invest in the development of a vaccine to stop the spread of COVID pandemic in our country and money was no object, then you had some of the best scientists in the world invested to come in the labs,” Laws said.

“You had trained researchers and capabilities through leading pharmaceutical companies. It wasn’t a time issue. The vaccines were tested and found to be safe and effective.”

The vaccine also does not implant COVID into the body, Laws said.

“It creates a replica of what the virus looks like in your body. Your body sees that and begins to develop antibodies,” she said, adding effects felt are signs your body is working to develop antibodies.

Mayors from Farmville, Fountain and Wilson joined the town hall to share their experiences and encourage people to get vaccinated.

“There was a point in time in my process where I broke down and started crying because I thought I was going to die,” said Wilson Mayor Carlton Stevens, who had the virus.

“It’s nothing like the flu. It’s a time if you don’t know God, you are going to get to know God.”

When the vaccine became available, Stevens became a proponent for it.

“In my mind, I went to March of last year. All we did was pray and asked God to bring us healing,” Stevens said.

“We asked for a vaccine. We asked for a way out of what we are in. Now it’s here. We got to follow through. If you don’t do it for yourself, you got to do it for your children, for the people around you.”

People must have faith in God and trust the science, said Farmville Mayor John Moore.

“Our Lord and Savior taught us you can’t fear and have faith at the same time. You may fear the vaccine, but we all fear COVID,” Moore said.

“One of the things we look into is the science. Sometimes you have to trust the science,” he said. “You have to have faith in the science. If you trust God and have faith, we’re going to be OK because God brought us through this”

Contact Donna Marie Williams at dwilliams@ncweeklies.com.