In Oval Office meeting, Bottoms lobbies for more detailed vaccine tracking from states

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joined President Joe Biden and other leaders from across the country in the Oval Office on Friday and urged the federal government to give local authorities more of a say in how coronavirus vaccines are distributed.

Bottoms was part of a bipartisan group of mayors and governors who met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss the administration’s COVID-19 relief plan. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez are among the other officials from around the country taking part in the meeting.

The mayor went to Washington with several specific asks related to Atlanta, she told reporters Friday afternoon. Her main requests centered around the allotment of vaccines. Currently, the federal government sends vaccine doses to states, though Biden announced earlier this week it will begin shipping doses of the COVID-19 vaccine directly to federally qualified community health centers, which are often in underserved communities.

“My request has been at the local level, that we have significant input in how it’s allocated. Because every community is different,” Bottoms said, adding that APS has thousands of teachers and staff that are not yet allowed to be vaccinated. The city would also like to more quickly vaccinate its frontline employees like sanitation workers, she said.

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Bottoms said she also asked Biden that states be required to track data on where vaccines are being given out, to ensure the process is done equitably.

“As I sit here now, I can’t tell you how many vaccines have been administered to residents in Atlanta. I can tell you on the county level,” she said. “Although there have been 1.3 million vaccines distributed in Fulton County, I don’t know if that’s on the Westside of Atlanta, or if that’s in Alpharetta.”

Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who was not at the Oval Office meeting Friday, said earlier this week the state is ready to work with community agencies to ensure vulnerable populations have more access to the vaccine.

But so far there is no timetable for gathering detailed race and ethnicity data on vaccine recipients — a gap that allows inequities in who receives the shot to continue to mount.

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Bottoms has a conversation with Biden during a rally in December. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Bottoms has a conversation with Biden during a rally in December. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Bottoms has a conversation with Biden during a rally in December. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Friday’s meeting with Biden was only supposed to be one hour long, but it ended up lasting nearly two hours. Bottoms said she was encouraged by Biden’s plans and the actions his administration has taken on COVID-19. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus plan includes $350 billion in coronavirus relief for state and local governments. The stimulus bill is currently making its way through Congress.

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Bottoms’ attendance at the White House meeting further highlights her close relationship with the president. The mayor was an early and ardent supporter of Biden’s presidential campaign, and for months it was speculated that she would join his administration in some capacity. Last month Biden nominated Bottoms to serve as a vice chair for the Democratic National Committee in charge of civic engagement and voter protection.

“President Biden has committed to keep us at the table as part of this conversation,” she said. “The fact that we were represented, that Atlanta was represented, signals that Atlanta and our state will be a priority.”

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