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COVID-19 death toll 7 among Fla. church members; pastor blames vaccine misinformation

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 1:48 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CNN) - A church is mourning the death of its congregation members after seven of them died of COVID-19.

The church’s pastor is blaming the deaths on what he calls vaccine misinformation.

At his church, senior pastor George Davis is praying for higher vaccination rates among his church members.

Over a recent 10-day-period, he said otherwise healthy members of his church died from COVID-19, and none of them were vaccinated.

“We experienced six people as of last week in a 10-day stretch that have passed away from Covid. Four were under the age of 35,” Davis said. “And then actually yesterday, we had a seventh person pass away. These are all people that we care about and love dearly. One young man I knew since he was a toddler. So it was really difficult. Young man in the prime of his life who still had plans to be married and live out a full life.”

What frustrates Davis the most is all the misinformation about vaccines that’s out there that many in his congregation believe, such as: “When you get injected the government is putting a tracking device inside of you, and they’re watching your every move, that people are dying at record numbers and it’s just not being reported. I literally had someone here tell me recently that there’s as many people in the hospitals here in Jacksonville that are struggling in the ICU units who are vaccinated as there are unvaccinated.”

A CNN analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data suggests more than 99.99% of those who are fully vaccinated are avoiding hospitalization and death.

Davis and his wife are vaccinated, as well as their three children. And he’s delivered a strong pro-vaccine message from the pulpit.

“I don’t believe that doctors and scientists, no matter how much schooling they go through, I don’t believe that they can come up with cures and fixes for the body without a divine presence, God almighty, giving them that wisdom and giving them that insight to figure it out,” he said.

So far, Impact Church has held two vaccination drives, the most recent one this past Sunday at church, making it easier for those who came to pray to get vaccinated, too.

Andrea and Rodney, two church members who didn’t give their last names, got vaccinated early on, though Andrea was hesitant at first.

“I would say do it so that you don’t have to be in the hospital,” Andrea said. “Do it so that no one has to hear you struggling to breathe on your last days. Do it so that nobody is having to say this was preventable when something happens.”

Losing members of their congregation was a wake-up call.

“These aren’t people that you just go to church with on Sunday. These are people we do life with, people that we’d seen two weeks ago at a gathering. It’s much more than losing a church member. It is truly losing family,” Rodney said.

Sheena and Reggie Smith just got vaccinated about a week ago.

Reggie Smith waited because he felt the vaccine was rolled out too quickly, even though the creation of mRNA vaccines was years in the making, but now he’s relieved.

“Just getting that extra buffer for whatever could possibly attack your body you’ll have something to help fight it off as well,” he said.

Just days after they were vaccinated, their good friend and fellow church member died of COVID-19.

“It’s very hard. It’s very hard. I’m sorry. It’s very hard losing someone that close to you and seeing life cut short,” Sheena Smith said. “Being in your 30s and seeing it cut short. Nobody wants to experience that. Nobody wants to see that.”

Despite the pastor’s efforts, though, some church members are still refusing to get vaccinated.

Copyright 2021 CNN Newsource. All rights reserved. Gray Media Group, Inc., contributed to this report.