Churches must support the vaccine drive, says Scotland's national clinical director

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Churches have an important role to play in encouraging parishioners to get vaccinated against Covid-19, the national clinical director for Scotland has said.

Professor Jason Leitch made the comments during the 2021 Beckley Lecture hosted by the Joint Public Issues Team, a partnership between the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church.

In his lecture, titled 'Faith and Leadership in a Global Pandemic', Professor Leitch touched on the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the challenges this has created for many people in Scotland.

"We closed the schools for the first time in history. We closed the civil service buildings for the first time in history. We shut hotels and pubs and we did it because we didn't know what else to do. Last March nobody knew what to do. Even now, 15 months in, a new pathogen, about which we learn more every single day ... we're still not entirely sure what to do," he said.

He acknowledged the hardships that families have endured over the past year as a result of the pandemic and also businesses.

"It can be hard to be a business owner and watch your savings have to be spent on that restaurant, or bar or gift shop. It can be hard, frankly, to be at the supermarket checkout or customer service desk when people are shouting at you for not wearing a mask," he said.

Despite the effects Covid-19 has had on society, Leitch expressed the joy he felt in seeing communities pulling together to offer support.

"One of the things I've grown to love is the ability to see people who have stepped up - community groups, church groups, mosques, synagogues and boys brigade groups," he said.

Scotland had the lowest case rate in the UK until recently. However, as the Clinical Director for Scotland, Leitch has had a tough time on social media.

"It was completely new to me, I'd never experienced anything like it. I went from 12,000 Twitter followers to nearly 100,000 followers in about an hour and half and most of them were not joyful, they weren't following me in order to wish me well," he said.

He continued "Many of them had lost their businesses. There were nightclub owners and I was perceived to be the one who had shut their nightclub. I absolutely feel for the events industry, for those who have been last in the order of opening again. My job is to give the best advice I can to protect 5.5 million people."

Like businesses and schools, churches were closed for public worship for much of the pandemic and have only opened up recently.

Leitch attends Airdrie Baptist Church, which remained open throughout the pandemic to keep its food bank running for those in the community who needed it most.

"It was the only thing in the building that worked the whole way through the pandemic. We moved everything online and we've now gone back to face to face services on a Sunday morning with limited numbers," he said.

He continued, "Churches have become known in their communities and I really hope we don't lose that."

When questioned on the recent rollout of the vaccine, Leitch expressed his thoughts on how churches should 'advertise vaccination'.

"They should run clinics and should have vaccine literature. They should encourage those they serve to be vaccinated," he said.

"That's not a universal view. Other people would think that's ridiculous and they should stay out of it. I think it is a selfless act that protects not only you but those around you and therefore, [the] church should engage in it."