While a church is an understandable place to find somebody who’s facing surgery in a few days, Donald Christian wasn’t at Pleasant Grove East McComb Baptist late Sunday afternoon for services. He was there for a COVID-19 vaccination.
Christian was among 30 people who received a dose of the vaccine at the church, which also opened its fellowship hall as a vaccination clinic on Aug. 29.
Christian’s friend saw an article in the Enterprise-Journal about the vaccination clinic and told Christian, who said he’s having hernia surgery this week, that he should go.
Nikki Magee and her son Bryson White, 14, were getting their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine after getting their first shot in August.
“He said, ‘We’re going to be all right. We got ours at the church,’ ” Magee said of White.
Magee said she had COVID-19 in May and had to wait to get the vaccine. When she saw the delta variant’s onset and its greater risk for children, she wanted her son to get the shot, too.
“I couldn’t get it. Once I heard about the kids getting it, I was like, uh-uh,” she said, adding that Bryson was nervous as an uptick in cases coincided with the beginning of the school year. “He was hearing about how bad it was getting before school started. He’s had friends who have had to quarantine, but none have gotten infected.”
Cindy Johns, who is Pleasant Grove East McComb Baptist’s congregational nurse, contacted Caring Hands Children’s Clinic in Monticello to administer the doses, and the clinic had about half a dozen of its staff there on Sunday.
Johns said she believes pop-up vaccination clinics like this are an essential community service and the church can play a big role in aiding the effort.
“People are destroyed from a lack of knowledge and people reject knowledge,” she said. “God wants us to be in good health, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to deal with the body, mind and spirit.
“I believe in God and the doctor. I believe God put these doctors here. I believe in the science.”
Across town, at St. Mary Free Will Baptist Church No. 1, the turnout at a similar vaccination event was mostly crickets and tumbleweeds for much of the day, with just three people showing up to get inoculated.
“It’s critical for people to get vaccinated,” said Rep. Daryl Porter Jr., D-Summit, who put on the event with support from the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus and Pearl River Valley Opportunity Inc.
Discouraged by the paltry turnout, Porter went into the surrounding Baertown neighborhood and knocked on doors, where he encountered some vaccine apathy, particularly among younger residents.
He returned to St. Mary’s fellowship hall, where three nurses from Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center were sitting at a table with untapped vials of the Pfizer vaccine, cotton pads, bandages and syringes.
Porter said much of his encounters went the same:
“Are you vaccinated?”
“Are you going to get vaccinated?”
“I don’t know.”
After initially promoting the clinic for Aug. 29 and then postponing it because of Hurricane Ida, then rescheduling and promoting it again, Porter’s frustration over the low turnout was palpable.
“I’m vaccinated. I don’t have an extra arm,” he said.
Porter said he hopes the Legislative Black Caucus will be able to hold more vaccination clinics in the future. He believes partnering with churches is an effective way to reach the unvaccinated.
“Particularly in the Black community, we lean on churches,” he said. “It’s always been a staple in our community. Being able to do it on a Sunday at a church eliminates a lot of excuses.”
Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country and, as of this past weekend, the nation’s highest COVID-19 death rate.
These two facts are no coincidence, Porter said, as the hospital’s nurses got ready to fold up their table, box up their unused vaccine and leave for the day.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.