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Health department holds vaccine clinic, providing access to Black community

  • 2 min to read
Sarah Schwartz puts the syringes together

Sarah Schwartz puts the syringes together before putting the vaccine doses in them during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Wednesday at the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia. Due to barriers for Black Americans that are part of ongoing disparities in access to health care, the Health Department held this clinic to provide direct access for members in the Black community.

Between his own experiences with COVID-19 and medical racism, George Norman Jr. was anxious to get the vaccine to Columbia’s Black community.

Norman, a deacon at Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, worked with Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services to hold a clinic Wednesday at the church.

“To me, the vaccine means we are protecting ourselves from death,” he said. “I spent four weeks total in the hospital this summer, and I’m just fortunate that God allowed me to be alive today.”

The clinic, which distributed 147 first-dose vaccines, was part of an effort by local health organizations to bring vaccines to the Black community, where COVID-related deaths are disproportionately higher nationwide.

According to Missouri’s vaccine dashboard, 4.7% of the state’s Black residents have been vaccinated, compared to 12.2% of the state’s white residents.

George Norman, left, Deacon at Progressive Missionary Baptist Church

George Norman, left, Deacon at Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, talks to his granddaughter, Ilana Bonaparte, 4, during the COVID-19 vaccine clinic Wednesday at the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia. Norman spent four weeks in the hospital with COVID. “This vaccine is going to save lives,” Norman said.

After dealing with the virus and receiving both doses of the vaccine, Norman wanted to combat any doubt and fear within Columbia’s Black community.

“It was my calling to do all I can for my church family to educate them. This is not a hoax, and it’s definitely not going away.”

Because Black people trust their churches, Norman said, he knew bringing the vaccine to a place of worship would be better than relying on a system that the African American community doesn’t always trust after centuries of discrimination.

“God has blessed us with our church,” he said. “This is going to be a great day.”

According to Verna Laboy, a health educator with the department, mistrust and her firsthand knowledge as a Black woman led her to address health disparity in the Black community and seek healing.

Laboy has led the department’s Live Well by Faith program, which promotes healthy living through Black churches, for more than five years.

Sarah Schwartz draws up the Moderna vaccine

Sarah Schwartz draws up the Moderna vaccine for the individual doses during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Wednesday at the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia. The Health Department will be back March 31 to give recipients the second dose of the vaccine. The clinic distributed 147 first-dose vaccines Wednesday.

Using the existing program to distribute vaccines was a “no brainer,” she said. The Health Department’s access to places of worship allows it to combat systemic barriers and biases within the health care system.

“Last year, the Health Department declared that racism was a public health crisis,” Laboy said. “This (clinic) is one of the ways they are putting resources and efforts to address it.”

Marilyn Calbert, 64, received the first dose of the Moderna vaccine at Wednesday’s clinic. The former health communications specialist of 20 years was happy to see the community-oriented event but noted that the legacy of racist medical experiments continue to hurt the Black community.

“It’s still a shame in America that people will attempt to actively discriminate because of race,” she said as she touched the sticker on her shirt. The sticker read “keep moving forward.”

Calbert wished the Black community was more included in the vaccine rollout plan. She added that Black people have often been denied a seat at the table.

“That made me sad,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it all since I went to bed last night. It all stems from mistrust within the medical system.”

Debra Knight gets vaccinated during a vaccine clinic

Debra Knight gets vaccinated during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic Wednesday at the Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia. Knight is a caretaker for her mother, and it was crucial for her to get the vaccine.

  • Reporter at the Columbia Missourian. (He/Him). Reach me jacobmoscovitch@mail.missouri.edu.

  • Community reporter, fall 2020 Studying photojournalism Reach me at krsq94@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

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