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South Side Pastor Thinks Outside The Box To Increase COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

CHICAGO (CBS) -- If you're not vaccinated against COVID-19 by now, you never will be, right?

Wrong. Not if you ask a South Side pastor who is thinking outside the box to drive up vaccination rates. CBS 2's Tim McNicholas showed us Thursday morning how the pastor is trying to spread his success.

"We have gift cards from Walmart," said Pastor Charles Rogers.

Gift cards, sweatshirts, and free rides to this church and back are all among the rewards in Pastor Rogers' offer to anyone who gets vaccinated at his church's clinic this Friday.

"The church is about saving souls, but also saving lives," Rogers said. "What's the point of saving a soul, then losing a life?"

The Greater Mt. Vernon Baptist Church is located at 87th and Laflin streets in Auburn Gresham. In its 60620 ZIP code, just about half the population is fully vaccinated.

But Pastor Rogers said thanks to his frequent vaccine drives, all but one of his congregants are fully vaccinated and boosted – for a total of 124.

McNicholas: "What does that mean to you?"

Pastor Rogers: "It means we're doing the good work."

As the Omicron COVID-19 variant spreads rapidly, Pastor Rogers wants to expand his work. So he's teamed up with two other churches—also in areas with below average vaccination rates—to get as many people as possible to this Friday's clinic.

"And we have gift cards from Target as well," Pastor Rogers said.

A nationwide group called Choose Healthy Life donated some of the gift cards.

"We know the folks that are not vaccinated at this point are the most diehard folks that are against vaccination for whatever their personal reasons are," said Carol Bell of Choose Healthy Life. "So we want to encourage with any means we have to get folks vaccinated."

"And we feel that by uniting our forces we can be more effective," added Rogers.

But Pastor Rogers isn't stopping there. He says another pastor on the West Side told him many of his congregants are still unvaccinated.

So Pastor Rogers will help run a clinic there later this month.

"We're trying to get everybody within the city vaccinated," he said.

As for that one remaining congregant here who is vaccinated, but not boosted? His name is Chuck Hawkins, and he will add a line to his vaccine card on Friday.

"I'm actually anxious." Hawkins said. "The hospitals are filling up. Like I say, I'm a barber. I deal with a lot of people, so I want protect myself."

Public health clinicians will be giving out those vaccines on Friday at the church at 87th and Laflin from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As for the event later this month, that will be on Jan. 21 at the New Home Baptist church on West Polk Street.

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