GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris visited South Carolina on Monday to kick off a nationwide push to vaccinate millions more Americans against the coronavirus as July 4 holiday celebrations loom.
Harris spoke at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center at a vaccine mobilization event, reminding an audience of more than 150 that the coronavirus vaccines available are safe, free and effective in an effort to debunk misinformation and dislodge vaccine skepticism experts say have slowed down the administration of the shots across the country.
“They are safe, and they are free,” Harris said of the vaccines. “They are inspected, and it is that simple.”
Monday’s visit kicks off the launch of a national tour that’s part of the White House’s “month of action,” announced by President Joe Biden earlier this month urging more Americans to get their shots before the July 4 holiday. Harris will next head to Atlanta on Friday, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan plans to make Tuesday stops in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The White House effort includes an early summer sprint of incentives and a slew of new steps to ease barriers and make the vaccines more appealing to those who have not received them. It’s aimed at helping the president close in on his goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day.
Some of those efforts, Harris said Monday, include partnering with rideshare services to offer free rides to vaccine sites, having pharmacies across the country that are open 24 hours a day and working with childcare facilities to offer free childcare as people get vaccinated and recover from their side effects.
“Americans care for one another. Americans love our neighbor and in a perfect stranger’s face we see a friend — that’s who we are when we are at our best,” Harris said. “And for that reason alone, Americans are going to keep getting vaccinated.”
The vice president’s visit also coincides with the state’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Action Week.” South Carolina health officials are making a concentrated push to get state residents rapidly vaccinated, offering walk-in events at rural health clinics, pharmacies, hospitals and even breweries in the coming days.
South Carolina NAACP leaders and public health officials joined Harris at the community center Monday, decrying how few people in Greenville had received their shots so far.
The South has been home to some of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the country, with Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and South Carolina all in the bottom ten states for doses administered per capita as of Sunday, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Less than 39% of South Carolina’s population was fully vaccinated as of last week, according to the state health department. South Carolina State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said the state has worked to eliminate barriers to ensure vaccine access in many non-traditional settings.
“Barriers to the vaccine is no longer the greatest issue,” Bell said. “It is choice.”
Harris later toured a pop-up vaccination site at an indoor basketball court at the YMCA of Greenville, where she spoke with staffers administering the shots and people who had just received their vaccine that afternoon. She was also scheduled Monday to join a conversation about voting rights with community leaders.