by Danielle Sanders, Interim Managing Editor, Chicago Defender
In an exclusive interview with Real Times Media/Chicago Defender, Vice President Kamala Harris urged the Black community to vaccinate.
Vaccine Equity and Distribution was a crucial point in the Biden/Harris Presidential Campaign. Now, as we approach the first 100 days of their administration, the Biden Administration has taken significant steps to improve equity in vaccine distribution and COVID-19 response efforts. On March 25, the White House announced a series of actions to expand access to the vaccine to the hardest hit and highest risk communities around the country.
With funding from the American Rescue Plan, the US Department of Health and Human Services is investing nearly $10 billion to expand access to vaccines and better serve the most vulnerable communities. Equity is at the core of the Biden Administrations COVID-19 response. With the creation of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, the administration has set up community vaccination sites, increased vaccines sent to local pharmacies and community health centers, and launched hundreds of mobile clinics.
On Tuesday, Vice President Harris visited Chicago to promote the Biden administration’s commitment to vaccine equity. Greeted at Midway airport by Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot, Vice President Harris toured a mass vaccination site for essential union workers. This mass vaccination site located at 2260 S. Grove Street is operated and ran by union members for union members. In addition to the governor and Mayor, Senators Dick Durbin, Tammy Duckworth, and Rep. Danny Davis joined Vice President Harris on her site tour. “It’s a good to be in the house of labor. What you all are doing is so important.” Vice President Harris said at the event.
Following her tour of the site, Vice President Harris spoke with the Chicago Defender about vaccine hesitancy and equity in the black community.
ON VACCINE HESITANCY IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
CD: Access and Distribution of the vaccine are critical to us achieving herd immunity, but there is another element, vaccine hesitancy. What is the administration’s plan to address the lack of trust in the government and health care systems?
Vice President Harris: Many people want to get the vaccine, so we must make sure it is easy to get. The hesitancy piece is real, but so is access. When we look at the number of Black Americans vaccinated, those numbers are much lower, and that is a real problem.
We have to give information about the safety of the vaccine. Black communities have some of the highest rates of contracting the virus and death. We have to tout people like Dr. Kizzy Corbett, one of the vaccine developers. A Black Woman. We must remind people how the vaccine came to be. People are hesitant because of the history of medical abuse in this country against African Americans. However, this vaccine was created and developed in a vastly different way. There are many mistruths about the vaccine, and we must speak the truth of what it is and what it isn’t.
ON VACCINE EQUITY, ACCESS, AND DISTRIBUTION
CD: What about access and distribution?
Vice President Harris: We are putting our resources into making sure people have alternative options. We are implementing ways for those to get information and register to become vaccinated. We want those without internet to register and sign up over the phone. President Biden has said that residents should have a vaccination site no more than 5 miles from their homes.
THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS
CD: What role do Community Health Organizations play in equity and distribution?
Vice President Harris: They play a huge role. Community Health Organizations are some of the most successful in getting communities of color vaccinated. More so than some pharmacies. This is why we are ramping up the resources given to community health. These sites are trusted in the community. It is my hope that as we grow, the capacity of community health centers has a long-lasting impact that lasts beyond getting the community vaccinated. These centers are trusted sources of healthcare for so many.
“We have to continue doing what we know works—wearing masks, washing our hands, sanitizing and social distancing until it is our turn to become vaccinated. We just want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine. It can save your life, the lives of your family, and members of your community. Each of us has the power to do this.”
Following her tour, Vice President Harris joined Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on the Southside to Brown Sugar Bakery. According to the owner, Stephanie Hart, Vice President Harris wanted to support a small business during her visit, and friends suggested the popular Southside bakery. It was the Vice President’s first visit to the city since making history as the first woman and person of color to hold the office.
Federal officials announced expanded vaccination efforts in Illinois. This includes $33 million for the City of Chicago. These funds can be used for innovative partnerships with community-based organizations. The goal is to increase vaccinations in communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus. The Vice President’s visit to Chicago came when the Biden administration announced that they have moved up their timeline for vaccinations for eligible adults over the age of 16 from May 1 to June 19. While the Mayor previously stated Chicago would stick with a May 1 eligibility date, she now says the city will open vaccine eligibility by the new date.
After Vice President Harris visit, Mayor Lightfoot said, “We want people to go and sign up when it’s their turn, but given the supply of vaccine, it may be a few weeks or so before they get an appointment to be able to come in, so we just caution with folks to be patient, and in the meantime, to be diligent.”
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.