“What we’re seeing is a truly American accomplishment,” he said in a speech from the White House.
But Georgia’s vaccination rate has fallen well below the national average in recent months. About 52.8% of the state’s adults have received at least one dose, compared to 64% nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 44.5% of adults in the state and 34.8% of all Georgians are fully vaccinated.
Among the least vaccinated groups: people of color and white Republican men. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harris rejected the notion that distinct tools are needed to appeal to the latter. Polls show they are among the most wary of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We want to save the life of the American people,” Harris said. “It should not be a political issue; it is not a political issue. That COVID could care less who you voted for in the last election, let’s be clear about that.”
At Ebenezer, the spiritual home of Martin Luther King Jr., Harris toured a pop-up vaccination site and spoke to a man receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine.
“That’s wonderful,” she said. She told a clinician administrating the vaccines, “Thank you for doing your work.”
Harris then spoke to a socially-distanced group of a dozen people in “Georgia works!” shirts who had just received their vaccinations. Standing in front of a TV screen that said “we can do this,” Harris said:
“What you are doing truly is about leadership. These vaccines are safe and effective. It will save your life and lives of people that you love.”
Throughout her visit, Harris listed strategies that Georgians could use when talking to friends, relatives and neighbors who might be vaccine hesitant. She was joined by several of the state’s top elected Democrats, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Nikema Williams, U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.
Warnock, who’s also senior pastor at Ebenezer, said Friday that “we don’t want to spike the football at the five yard line.”
“We’re close to the end zone,” Warnock told reporters. “So we’ve got to have people to continue to get vaccinated and tell the folks you know in your neighborhood, in your network that there is access to this vaccine.”
In Georgia, the inoculation rate has fallen so dramatically from its peak in March that state officials have shuttered mass vaccination sites and turned away more than 3 million doses of the vaccine allocated by the federal government. Meanwhile, Georgia has tens of thousands of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that are in danger of expiring. On Friday, Dekalb County announced it was shutting down one of its main mass vaccination sites as of July 1. Another main site that Dekalb is closing will shift operations to some new mobile vaccination units.
The current rate has some experts worried Georgia may never reach herd immunity via vaccination. That’s particularly troublesome after the state recently recorded its first cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus first seen in India. The variant is significantly more contagious than other strains and seems to carry a higher risk of hospitalization, researchers say.
Public health officials have transitioned to a smaller-scale, more labor-intensive strategy in recent weeks to persuade people to get vaccinated. That includes mobile vaccination sites as well as incentives from private companies, such as cash prizes and baseball tickets.
The White House has also backed community-based outreach initiatives, including an effort to recruit 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons in Atlanta and other cities to persuade customers to get the shot. Some pharmacies will stay open 24 hours on Fridays on a limited basis, to accommodate shift workers’ schedules.
Republicans on Friday had little to say about Harris’ vaccine messaging. They instead hammered her for not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden tapped his vice president in March to head the administration’s response to the surge of people trying to cross the border.
“With this visit, she is ignoring a critical issue which is our border crisis,” said Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King.
When asked about the criticism, Harris ignored it.
“Let me just tell you I’m so happy to be back in Atlanta,” she responded. “I love coming to Atlanta, and Georgia.”