After seeing the delta variant of the coronavirus rip through his congregation at a deadly place, Jacksonville pastor George Davis took action.
Davis, the Bishop at Impact Church, said six members of his church have died from COVID in the last two weeks and as many as 20 others have been sent to the hospital after catching the highly-contagious strain of the virus. According to the pastor, four of those who died were under 35, and all the victims had one thing in common: None were vaccinated.
That motivated Pastor Davis to organize a series of vaccine drives after the church’s three Sunday services.
“It’s very frustrating knowing that these were avoidable deaths.”
This weekend’s vaccine events weren’t the first time Davis has pushed vaccine drives. In March, he organized one event that he says provided vaccines for 800 people. That’s a significant event for a predominantly black church, because as The Washington Post notes, the black community “struggles with a legacy of distrust in medical institutions.”
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The Tuskegee Study from the 1930s to the ’70s — a secret experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to research the progression of syphilis in Black males without treatment — is one major reason health officials’ outreach in Black communities has suffered, Davis said. Many of his parishioners refused to get vaccinated at a government-run vaccination center in front of the church, prompting the pastor to organize a campaign in March.
Davis surmised that his members would be more likely to show up to a vaccination event held at his church, and the numbers proved him right. He says 1,000 people registered and 800 attended back in March.
Recent studies back up the pastor’s observation. A report from the Public Religion Research Institute determined that roughly 36 percent of Black Protestants who are wary of the vaccines said faith-based approaches could change their minds. Also, about 70 percent of respondents said they would trust a religious leader for vaccination information.
Davis is a pastor who knows many in his congregation have their doubts about the vaccine, but he does not share that hesitancy. He views medicine and faith as being intermingled, and it comes from personal experience. His daughter was diagnosed with sickle cell disease as an infant, and they were told she would likely not live very long. Davis and his wife, also a senior pastor at Impact, leaned heavily on their faith for guidance during that time. But they also researched procedures that could help their child. She had a bone-marrow transplant and she is now 19 years old.
“The miracle is no less of a miracle if medical science has to kick in to finish it off,” he told the Post. “For me, that’s a little bit of a turning point, because I’ve seen God do it with no medical help up until a point and then finish it off with medical help. And that’s what I [see] in this virus, too.”