Pastor Jacqueline Thompson "Pastor Jackie" of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland.
Pastor Jacqueline Thompson "Pastor Jackie" of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Last Thursday, the final day of Allen Temple Baptist Church’s pop-up vaccination clinic in deep East Oakland, Senior Pastor Jacqueline Thompson could be found in her office juggling meetings with her staff and public health officials.

Since the start of the pandemic, Thompson’s East Oakland church has been involved in COVID relief efforts such as running a neighborhood testing site. Allen Temple recently partnered with Kaiser Permanente and the East Bay Community Foundation to produce a video series interviewing Black community members about why they chose to get vaccinated.

The Oaklandside talked with Thompson, who recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Allen Temple pop-up clinic, about how her decision to get vaccinated stems from a responsibility to keep her community safe. Since then, state health authorities have paused distribution of the J&J vaccine “out of an abundance of caution.” Of the more than 6.8 million people who have been given the J&J vaccine nationally, there have been six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot with symptoms occurring 6 to 13 days after vaccination. Health authorities are researching the issue. In the meantime, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain safe and are available.

Why did you decide to get vaccinated?

About two weeks ago on a Wednesday, I made the final decision to be vaccinated because I have a mother that just turned 92-years-old, who I’m a caregiver for. Because we [Allen Temple congregation] have been constantly serving and ministering, I felt I was placing her at risk to not be vaccinated. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I happened to be one of those persons that were asymptomatic and then passed it to her.

Were you nervous or excited about it?

I was not nervous. I was concerned because there’s been so much misinformation particularly the Johnson and Johnson vaccine compared to Pfizer and Moderna. And so, I was concerned about efficacy and all the rest of that, but by the time I did it, we had been vaccinating on site for about four to six weeks, so I feel good about it.

How did you get your appointment?

I didn’t want people to think that I was trying to jump ahead of others or take someone else’s spot who was of higher risk, so I waited. But recently the county said that I was eligible and declared me a frontline worker, so I was able to be vaccinated. We filmed it, and hopefully it was an example to our congregation and other leaders in the city as well that we need to be leading by example.

How did you feel after getting vaccinated?

When I got it, I could feel it going in my arm and immediately after I was fine. I went through the course of the day and I was good. The next day, I believe I was having symptoms like I was coming down with something that never actually landed. I will say the biggest battle was probably more mental than it was physical because I’d cough and It was like, “Oh my God, did I get it? Oh lord, I’m sniffling.” So those symptoms and feeling like, “Oh am I coming down with a cold,” that was about 24 hours. The day after that, I was good.

Why do you think it’s important for people in heavily impacted communities to be vaccinated?

Because it’s those people who are dying. We are sitting currently in the highest impact zip code, 94621. It has already been shown nationally as well as locally that those who tend to die from contracting COVID-19 are persons of color, Black people and Latino people. While we recognize that none of the vaccines can fully prevent you from contracting it, if it can prevent you from dying then it’s something that we need to be advocating in our community because we’re already fighting too many things that are trying to kill us.

What do you say to people in your community who are apprehensive about getting vaccinated?

I believe in agency. I believe in agency for individuals and for organizations. So, I am not telling anyone to make a decision that they don’t feel comfortable making. I think it is my responsibility as a leader, not to tell people what to do, but for those who have made the decision. My role is to provide access. That’s what we’ve tried to do by setting up a vaccination clinic in the community.

I would say it’s important for our communities even though history has taught us that we have a reason to be concerned; our fears and concerns are grounded. I don’t want people to feel that they’re being irrational, but we should do our research and we should be educated.

We should go to people that we trust personally, because one community’s trusted messengers are not other community’s trusted messengers. Even after all of that, if people make the decision that they do not want to be vaccinated, then they need to recognize the risk they are placing people that they care about and their community in.

At the very least, take precaution. Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, limit your social gatherings—all of the things that we’re being advised to do until we can reach something close to a herd immunity status.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.