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Rev. Phyllis Jackson Joins Statewide Task Force on Vaccine Equity

Patti Singer

The Rev. Phyllis Jackson, RN. Provided by Common Ground Health

Phyllis Jackson will not tell you to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

What she will tell you is to get the facts about the vaccine.

“Get rid of the fear, that dread and fear that keeps you from being able to receive and process information,” said Jackson, an ordained minister and a registered nurse. “Get rid of that by getting the facts and then making an informed decision based on the facts and context.”

Jackson, who brings her message to Rochester as community wellness project manager at Common Ground Health and through the faith community, could influence a larger audience.

Jackson was among two dozen people named to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statewide Vaccine Equity Task Force.

The task force was announced Dec. 21 and is chaired by New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, Attorney General Letitia James, National Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Marc Morial and Healthfirst President and CEO Pat Wang.

Members include representatives from the SUNY system, labor, neighborhood health centers and faith groups.

Jackson said she received a call from the state Department of Health that “the governor was bringing some people together” and would she like to be among them.

“What? Me?” Jackson said she responded. “Look at that list.”

The caller mentioned that Jackson’s boss, Common Ground Chief Executive Officer Wade Norwood, thought she might be a good candidate.

Norwood said he’d recently had a conversation with the governor’s office.

“We are proud of Phyllis and the role that she plays locally, across the region and at the state level,” he said via text. “Like so many of our colleagues, we see Phyllis as a change agent helping us make our work part of how New York State pursues health equity.”

Jackson is the founder of the Interdenominational Health Ministry Coalition, and that credential is listed ahead of Common Ground in the news release announcing her participation in the governor’s task force.

She said that while many churches have health ministries, the IHMC has formalized its approach and her exposure on the statewide panel could raise its profile and get more people interested in its work.

As for the task force, its mission is to remove barriers to vaccination and ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine so that vulnerable and underserved communities are not left behind.

In that way, it’s similar to the Monroe County task force, which is led by Norwood and Dr. Nancy Bennett, former deputy county health director.

Jackson said the details haven’t been laid out for state task force. She said one role is to share what each region is doing to ensure that vaccines are available across racial and ethnic lines.

Another role and this is what the Monroe County task force said it will be doing, is to make sure people have accurate, culturally competent information so they can make the best choice for them.

“If after all that, you decide this vaccine is not something you want to do based on what you have seen and you have heard, and based on where you are right now, OK,” she said.

She is adamant that people need to decide for themselves and not be swayed by opinions.

“Everybody influences somebody,” Jackson said of friends and family members. “They say, ‘I’m not doing it.’ Not based on fact, not based on anything, not based on reason. Then it’s ‘I’m not doing it if she’s not doing it.’ That’s really where we have to get down to the granular level of who’s influencing so we can educate. We want to have people let others make their own decision. … We have to teach people to reason.”

Jackson acknowledged the continuing trauma from episodes such as Tuskegee, and said it’s important to remember without getting stuck in the past.

“Now we’re at a crossroads again. Since that time there have been many vaccines, many medications. We really have to put it in context.”

Jackson said she may not always trust government, but she believes in her faith. “What does my sacred text tell me about situations and times like these? There is nothing new under the sun. … Reframing it helps people look at it for a … way to utilize our faith to fuel our understanding.”

Here are the members of the state Vaccine Equity Task Force:

  • Frederick Shack, CEO, Urban Pathways, Inc.
  • Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President, SUNY Albany
  • Murad Awawdeh, Interim Co-Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
  • Dr. Henry Chen, President, SOMOS Community Care
  • Phyllis Jackson, Founder and Executive Director, Interdenominational Health Ministry Coalition; Community Wellness Project Manager; Common Ground Health
  • Guillermo Chacón, President, Latino Commission on AIDS and Founder, Hispanic Health Network
  • George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
  • Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs, NYS Hom
  • Frankie Miranda, President and CEO, Hispanic Federation
  • Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church
  • Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director, Asian American Federation
  • Dr. Hazel Dukes, President, NAACP New York State Conference
  • Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Senior Pastor, Grace Baptist Church
  • Judith Watson, CEO, Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center
  • Dr. Rosa Gil, Founder, President and CEO, Comunilife, Inc.
  • Dr. Wayne Riley, President, SUNY Downstate Medical Center; Chair, Board of Trustees, New York Academy of Medicine
  • Danny Barber, Chair, NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents; President, Jackson Houses Tenant Association
  • Kyle Bragg, President, 32BJ SEIU
  • Karim Camara, Executive Director and Deputy Commissioner, Governor’s Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services
  • Rev. Mark E. Blue, President, Buffalo Chapter NAACP