President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promoted the COVID-19 vaccine Thursday as supply gradually increases and officials think about ways to lean on leery Americans who could remain on the sidelines.
Mr. Biden struck an optimistic tone as he celebrated the 50 millionth shot given under his watch, saying the vaccine will be more and more accepted as eligibility expands by midspring.
“I think more people see other people getting shots — it’s gonna build confidence,” Mr. Biden said in a White House event. “If there is one message that needs to cut through, it’s this: The vaccines are safe and effective.”
Ms. Harris, who toured a Giant pharmacy in Southeast D.C., said she felt a bit sluggish after her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, but there was nothing to fear.
“If there’s been any reluctance, it has been among African Americans in our city,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, told Ms. Harris. “You are in an African American community. I think seeing you here will encourage people to come forward to get vaccinated.”
The U.S. needs to vaccinate roughly 75% of its population as fast as possible to get the pandemic under control in the coming months.
Demand for the vaccine exceeds supply right now, though officials are worried the program will stall out if some Americans remain hesitant about the shots once they’re widely available.
The trend is moving in the right direction, however. Over half of Americans — 55% — now say they want to get vaccinated as soon as possible or received their first dose, according to a tracking poll released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
That is an increase of 8 percentage points from last month’s poll, as more people opt to roll up their sleeves or see friends and family get vaccinated.
The KFF poll said all demographic groups are seeing increases in the share of people who’ve been vaccinated or want to, though there is variation.
People over age 65 and Democrats were the most eager, while Black adults and adults younger than 30 were most likely to be in a “wait-and-see” posture, with one-third in each group describing their position that way.
“Even though we have really high demand, we can see gaps in the uptake in health care workers, specifically long-term care facility workers. We see the uptake is not as high in African American and Latinos,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
Roughly 1 in 5 Americans are not just leery but downright reluctant to get vaccinated, according to KFF, with 15% refusing outright and 7% saying they’d only get the shots if they were required to for work or school.
The most resistant groups were rural residents, essential workers outside of health care, and Republicans, with 4 in 10 party members saying they will definitely not get vaccinated or only do so if required.
Black Americans, meanwhile, are sometimes wary of vaccines or government health projects for historical reasons, notably the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” that mistreated Black men.
Ms. Harris was honest about the fatigue she felt after her second dose but said it dissipated quickly.
“Midday, I realized I might need to slow down a bit. Just that one day and then it was fine,” Ms. Harris said.
Ms. Harris watched as Brenda Thompson, a 69-year-old eager to see her grandson, got her shot.
“It’s kind of weird to do it in front of all these cameras, isn’t it?” Ms. Harris said.
“I’m like, ‘will somebody come and hold my hand, please?’” Ms. Thompson said.
Samir Balile, a pharmacist and clinical program manager for the Giant chain, said they have people “lining up all day” for the vaccine but the next phase, when shots are in greater supply, will require an education campaign to bring people off the sidelines.
D.C. Health Commissioner LaQuandra Nesbitt said some D.C. residents are still deciding whether to get the vaccine, but there’s nothing to fear.
“We would tell them there are millions of people who’ve been vaccinated so you’re not the first,” Dr. Nesbitt said. “Right now we’ve got 50 million — over 50 million people — who’ve been vaccinated.”
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