Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a nationwide tour to encourage Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccination with a trip to South Carolina on Monday.
Harris started her day by touring a vaccination mobilization event at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center in Greenville, where she met with volunteers and community leaders working to increase vaccination rates across the state.
“The work you all are doing to get South Carolina vaccinated is some of the most important work that any leader can do right now,” Harris said after the tour, adding: “To all those who are vaccinated, let me start by saying thank you.”
Monday’s trip is part of a month-long “vaccine sprint” announced by President Joe Biden on June 2, a whole-of-government effort aiming to educate the public about COVID-19 vaccinations and encourage those eligible to get their jab.
Harris’ role in particular will be to “highlight the ease of getting vaccinated, encourage vaccinations, and energize and mobilize grassroots vaccine education and outreach efforts,” per the White House. The vice president is set to travel to a pop-up vaccination site at a nearby YMCA, before participating in a closed-door meeting with community leaders to discuss voting rights on Monday afternoon, per the White House.
The vice president’s visits will largely be “anchored in the South,” and she is traveling to Atlanta, Georgia as part of the tour on June 18.
The South has been home to some of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the country. According to an analysis last month by The Associated Press of data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight Southern states were in the bottom 10, all of which are under 40%.
Mississippi was last at 32%, followed by Louisiana, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina.
The administration recognizes the varying barriers people face when considering getting a vaccine, Harris said during her Monday address, acknowledging: “We know there are a whole lot of folks out there who still aren't vaccinated, and there are reasons for that.”
Some of those reasons include lack of access to childcare, lack of transportation, lack of access to vaccination centers and lack of paid time off, to name a few.
The vice president touted a number of programs and initiatives aimed at addressing these barriers, like the White House’s recent partnership with four of the nation’s largest childcare organizations to offer free childcare to parents and guardians and free rides from Uber and Lyft to and from vaccination centers.
Beyond addressing the physical barriers to COVID-19 vaccines, Harris stressed the need to address vaccine misinformation at the federal and local levels.
“The only thing that is left is making sure people have the correct information and not misinformation,” Harris said, later adding: “These vaccines were developed over a decade of research. I know it seems like it happened overnight, but it didn't.”
Harris encouraged Americans who are still unsure about getting their COVID-19 vaccine to ask questions and seek answers from reputable sources, including local health centers or the federal COVID-19 vaccine website.
The vice president also delivered a message of hope, encouraging Americans to look back at how far the country has come over a year into the deadly pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 600,000 people nationwide.
“Remember how we all felt a year ago? And look at where we are now,” Harris said. “It shows the power of not only the science and ingenuity that went into the vaccine, it shows the power of the human spirit. To say, we can beat this. We’re not going to let this get the best of us. We will handle this, and we will get through this.”
The month-long push is the administration's attempt to speed along the vaccination process as the United States inches towards President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adult Americans with at least one shot by July 4. With just over two weeks until the Independence Day deadline, nearly 64% of adult Americans have received at least one jab against COVID-19.
Harris is hardly the only member of the administration making an in-person push to get shots in arms.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan plans to make Tuesday stops in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. First lady Dr. Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, and other members of Biden’s Cabinet will also participate in the tour.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.