Vice President Kamala Harris travelled to Atlanta on Friday to urge Americans who have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 to go ahead and get jabs as the United States government strives to overcome disparities in vaccine delivery among the country’s Black and Hispanic populations.
“There are a few people that are saying, ‘I will not under any circumstances get vaccinated,’” Harris said in remarks at Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college.
“But there are some people, a lot of people might say, ‘I haven’t been vaccinated yet because I’m just not sure,’” Harris said, standing in front of a sign that read “vaccines.gov” with the slogan “We can do this”.
It is OK to have questions, Harris said, and she urged Atlantans to tell their friends and neighbours: “We can say with confidence the vaccines are safe, they are free and they are effective.”
President Joe Biden has set a goal of getting at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 70 percent of American adults by July 4. But the US is falling short of that goal in part because of hesitancy to get the vaccine among Black and minority communities.
Just 16 days from Biden’s deadline, 62.1 percent of the vaccine-eligible US population, about 176 million people, have received at least one dose, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Some 148 million people, or 52 percent of the eligible population, have received two doses and are considered “fully vaccinated”, according to the CDC.
In Atlanta on Friday, Harris visited a pop-up vaccine clinic set up at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the US civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr had preached in the 1960s and which today hosts a vibrant African American congregation in the majority Black city.
The clinic was providing COVID-19 vaccinations to a group of people wearing blue “Georgia works” T-shirts when Harris arrived.
“These vaccines are safe and effective. It will save your life and the lives of people you love,” Harris told the group in informal remarks. Harris urged people “to get the word out” to help their friends and neighbours overcome obstacles to getting vaccinated like needing childcare and fear of needles.
Urban areas of the US have been hardest hit by the coronavirus and, despite a focus in US cities on providing vaccines to underserved populations, actual rates of vaccination have been initially lower than average, according to health studies.
Data from New York City early in the US rollout of vaccines in March showed white people were twice as likely to obtain the vaccine as African Americans and Hispanics.
Early vaccine rollouts in New York City were focused primarily on white, middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods, while access to vaccination sites was lower in minority neighbourhoods of Brooklyn, the most populous New York City borough, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Nationally, the latest CDC data indicates that while more than 61 percent of white people have received at least one dose, fewer than 13 percent of Black people have received at least one dose.
That may now be improving, although the rate of vaccinations among Black people continues to lag. A Kaiser Family Foundation report released on Wednesday found “recent trends suggest a narrowing of racial gaps in vaccinations at the national level, particularly for Hispanic people”.
Biden announced at the G7 summit meeting in Cornwall, UK, last week the US government planned to buy and distribute 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 92 lower-income nations over the coming 12 months.
The US president has been under pressure to make more vaccines available to poorer nations as the US achieved adequate supply domestically.
The US has administered 300 million COVID-19 vaccinations in 150 days, a White House official said on Friday, according to the Reuters news agency.
The US marked a grim milestone, surpassing 600,000 COVID-19 deaths in recent days but new COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths have declined to the lowest levels since the start of the pandemic, data shows.
In remarks scheduled for later on Friday, Biden is expected to “make clear that there is more work to be done” to ensure an equitable response to the pandemic even as the US is rebounding from the pandemic, according to a White House aide.
“The results are clear: America is starting to look like America again, and entering a summer of joy and freedom,” the White House said.