Rev. Ira Acree (right) greets Ald. Chris Taliaferro (second from left) and MWRD commissioner Barbara McGowan (third from left). (Igor Studenkov)

On April 24, Rev. Ira Acree decided hosted a COVID-19 vaccination site at his church, Greater St John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave. in Austin — roughly a year after surviving his own encounter with the virus.

Both Acree and his wife survived bouts with COVID-19 last summer. Acree got vaccinated at the end of January, but wanted to do his part to give Austin residents more opportunities to get vaccinated. He said he hopes that his example will help overcome the vaccine hesitancy among community members, bringing both Austin and the city of Chicago a step closer to some semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy. 

The church got 300 doses and at least 70 doses were used within the first two and a half hours, with around 20 patients waiting to get vaccinated, organizers said. 

Residents sat in the church basement, with medical staff moving through the rows of seats, giving residents COVID-19 tests and vaccinating them one by one. They will be able to get their second dose at the church in May.

Amanda Perez, right, a nurse from North Shore, administers the first doze of the Pfizer vaccine to Pat Moore on April 24, during a free vaccination clinic hosted by Rev. Ira Acree at his Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

In Austin, vaccines are currently available at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave.; PCC Community Health Center locations; Cook County Health system’s Austin Health Center, 4800 W. Chicago Ave.; and Walgreens stores. There have also been pop-up vaccination sites and one-off events organized through the Protect Chicago Plus initiative. 

In fact, there were two vaccination events in Austin on April 24. In addition to Acree’s event, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (7th) co-hosted an event at Moore Park, 5085 W. Adams St. 

“There’s a tale of two cities,” Acree said, referencing the deep racial and geographic disparities in access to healthcare and vaccine availability. 

“As faith leaders, we prayed, ‘Lord, send us the cure,’” Acree said. “So now, there is the cure. The vaccine is the answer to our prayer.” 

Patients wait outside after their vaccine on April 24, during a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Greater Saint John Bible Church in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

While he experienced chills and fever after getting the vaccine, those side-effects were nothing compared to the actual disease. 

“I had significant breathing problems,” Acree recalled. “I had body aches, chills, flu-like symptoms. I lost a lot of weight and really struggled to get around.”

And, unlike the disease, the vaccine side-effects only lasted 24 hours.

“The next day, I felt 20 years younger,” Acree said. “It’s like I had a burst of energy.”

Acree encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, noting that every inoculated person puts the country closer to herd immunity.

“If they enjoy walking around with masks on for the rest of their lives, if they like not going to church, if they like not going to the restaurants, don’t get vaccinated,” he said. 

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes Acree’s church, and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Commissioner Barbara McGowan stopped by Greater St. John to take a look at the event and offer support. Both officials are vaccinated.

The alderman, who promoted the event in his online newsletter and during his April 21 community meeting, said that he would like to see multiple vaccination sites throughout Austin.

“I just want to thank Rev. Ira Acree for putting this together for the Austin community,” Taliaferro said. “We still got thousands of people in Austin who need to get vaccinated. This is an awesome effort and we should continue to add sites in our ward.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” McGowan said. “I think it’s absolutely great and I think the church did a good job of getting people out here,” she said. “This just shows that people do want to get vaccinated.”

Raven Lewis and Jaleal Meadows, both of Austin, found out about the event from their relatives.

“I was nervous at first, but I guess the nurses put me at ease and I’m relieved,” Lewis said. 

“I feel alright,” Meadows said. “I was kind of nervous at first, but I’m okay.”

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