As more states are easing COVID-19 vaccine restrictions and more people are getting their shots, Black Americans are receiving a smaller proportion of doses than white Americans, despite higher case rates and being twice as likely to die from the disease.
NBC News recently reported that this discrepancy speaks to two issues: a lack of access and a lack of trust due to a history of abuses of Black bodies by the medical system. As a result, churches have been integral in helping Black Americans feel more comfortable getting the vaccine.
TODAY co-host Craig Melvin recently spoke with the Rev. Charles Jackson Sr. and Jackson's son, the Rev. Charles Jackson Jr., who run Craig's childhood church, to discuss how they're getting the word out. In South Carolina, where Craig grew up, Black Americans comprise about 27% of the state's population but only 17% of those vaccinated.
"(The pandemic has been) one of the most challenging times I've known in the 50 years which I've been trying to pastor. Ministering to the pain and suffering of so many has been almost overwhelming," Jackson Sr. said.
His church, Brookland Baptist Church, has had 16 members die from COVID-19.
"A lot of us in the African American community have dealt with that vaccine hesitancy because of various reasons, because of the history of certain discrepancies and certain inequities that were levied against people of color," Jackson Jr. said.
Jackson Sr. explained that initially he saw many "African Americans having ... a wait-and-see approach," and he felt the same way himself.
"And then the Lord convicted me, Craig. The Lord said, 'What do you want to see? What are you waiting to see? Have you not seen the thousands upon thousands of persons contracting the virus? Have you not seen the hundreds of persons having died from this virus? Have you not seen your own pain and suffering to which you've had to minister, right at the Brookland church? So what are you waiting to see?' And I said I've seen enough."
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Jackson Sr. recently gave a sermon about vaccination.
"I've got vaccine vacation on the right, I've got virus and ventilator on the left, so the choice is yours," he said in his sermon.
Reflecting on the sermon, he told Craig, "I tried to appeal to the wisdom and intelligence of others. If I'm talking about vaccine and vacation very likely on the right hand and then on the left hand I'm talking about virus and ventilator, then what does wisdom suggest?"
Jackson Sr. got vaccinated himself and shared pictures of the experience online. Asked why, he explained, "Well, I believe this: One cannot lead where they are not going."
Jackson Sr.'s decision to get his shots led Mosetta Sullivan, 77, who works at the church, to do the same.
At first, she said she thought, "You know, you listen to people, don't do this, don't do that because it's going to make you sick. You aren't going to be able to work."
But after Jackson Sr. got his shot, she made the call to get vaccinated.
"I had to wait a while first. I wanted to make sure he was all right," she told Craig. "When he said, 'I got both of them,' I said, OK, he's good. I'm going to get mine."
"I didn't feel anything, I didn't have an aftereffect or nothing," she added. "My arms weren't sore or anything. ... I feel good. I really do."
The Brookland church has partnered with nearby Lexington Medical Center to become a vaccination center and is now inoculating as many as 800 people a day.
"I've always said that the true measure of a church is not determined by what it does for itself, but by what it does for others," Jackson Sr. said. "Over the years, the Brookland church has developed a track record I think of integrity, that we are totally committed to serving others. We look upon church as being synonymous with community."