On a brisk Sunday morning in mid-April, there was a buzz among the volunteers from the Muslim Community Center (MCC), a mosque and community services organization with locations in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood and suburban Morton Grove.
Though this was the final weekend to prepare before the start of Ramadan, their excitement this day was not just about the upcoming celebrations for the holiest month in the Islamic year. It was because two Chicago mosques — one in Albany Park, the other in Chatham on the South Side — were hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics. By the end of that spring Sunday, more than 600 people from MCC and nearby neighborhoods received the vaccine.
The following weekend, another 1,200 people received vaccinations at a Cook County Department of Public Health event hosted at the MCC site in Morton Grove. This event included a press conference, covered by ABC 7 Chicago, with remarks by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (pictured with Ishaq, above) and others.
For Ishaq Lat, director, Pharmacy, these events were personal. MCC is Ishaq's religious community, and he serves as chair of the organization's Health and Awareness Committee. He has devoted countless hours organizing the vaccination events and educating others about the importance of getting vaccinated.
"I've known family members and close acquaintances at the farthest extremes of the worst outcomes of COVID. I've known people who have contracted COVID and passed away, and contracted COVID and required a double lung transplant," he says. "As a healthcare professional, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and tamp down some of the misunderstandings, misinformation and knowledge gaps that are out there."
As a healthcare professional, I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and tamp down some of the misunderstandings, misinformation and knowledge gaps that are out there.ISHAQ LAT, DIRECTOR, PHARMACY
Ishaq says he felt compelled to lead this work because people in the MCC community — which comprises a diverse population, including highly educated professionals, recent refugees from Burma and Syria, and individuals from many different races and ethnicities — are likely trust his medical advice, even if they may not trust other healthcare providers.
"For many people in minority communities, the healthcare system is seen as a stand-in for society at large. It represents a hard-to-navigate system that feels opaque. You worry that your needs and priorities will be unheard or unseen," he says. "My hope is that this vaccine will offer an opportunity for healthcare professionals to affect a positive outcome and help bring the pandemic to an end, while also acting as a pivot point for us to build trust in people who currently feel unheard, unseen or lost in the shuffle."
Ishaq says the role of faith-based organizations like MCC can be crucial in our vaccination effort. He even participated in a call in December with the Biden-Harris presidential transition team on the topic.
"Some individuals who are skeptical of healthcare or 'the system' as a whole have a trusting relationship with their church, synagogue, mosque or temple. There is a shared value system," he says. "Using that shared value system in an effort to improve public health is a big opportunity in terms of improving vaccination numbers around the country."