So far the campaign has been carefully calculated. Harris received both rounds of her vaccination publicly: the first in southeast Washington, DC, – historically the poorest and blackest quadrant in the city. She received the second at the National Institutes of Health, where she told the story of how her late mother, a biomedical scientist, would travel from California to Bethesda, Md., From a young age.
Friday, harris tweeted a video of himself at the NIH and told people, “It was painless, it was easy, it takes seconds, and it will save your life. And it will save your family’s life. ”
With the Biden government’s increasing efforts to fight Covid-19, Harris’ role is expected to expand, including possible virtual events and town halls driving vaccinations in the coming weeks, according to a senior Harris advisor.
“Plans are still being formulated, but everything is on the table. I think we want to make sure we get news of the plan, ”said a White House official. “I think we’re just trying to figure out what makes the most sense.”
“Trying to find out what makes the most sense” is a phrase that could also apply to Harris’ broader role. For months, transition and administration officials have downplayed the idea that Harris would have a specific or closed portfolio. They insisted that she will attend every meeting and be part of every decision. In the early days of the administration, she was right next to President Joe Biden at lunches, briefings, and various other events.
Her involvement in the vaccination battle, however, gives the public another picture of what her vice presidency might look like. While she may have a variety of problems to solve, she is also used as a micro-targeter. Last week, it was Harris who was hired on local TV networks to pressure former Senate colleagues in West Virginia and Arizona to join the government’s Covid recovery plan. The move that didn’t go down well with Senator Joe Manchin, who claimed the government didn’t tell him Harris was doing the interview and said it was “no way to work together.”
The Covid-19 campaign has different types of complications.
Only 17 states have publicly reported Covid-19 vaccination dates by race and ethnicity. But after one early analysis of this data by the Kaiser Family FoundationThere are big differences in how the communities receive the vaccines.
“While blacks and Hispanics have caused a disproportionate number of cases and deaths in many states, they are receiving fewer vaccinations in the states for which data are currently available,” said Samantha Artiga, vice president and vice president director of the program for racial justice and health policy at KFF.
For example, blacks make up 38 percent of Covid-19 cases and 42 percent of Covid deaths in Mississippi, but they only make up 15 percent of vaccinations.
Artiga says that since the data is incomplete, it is difficult to draw conclusions as to why this inequality occurs.
According to health experts, two of the biggest barriers to access are the ways people can sign up for vaccines and where they can actually go to get the shots.
“Right now [we’re] We use hospitals and pharmacies, 70 percent of which are in predominantly white communities, ”said Ebony Hilton-Buchholz, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Virginia. “You still use the internet to log in, don’t you? And what we do know is that… our children were directly affected by the fact that we don’t have WiFi that provides the same access to WiFi as other communities. “
A Harris (or someone else) PR campaign probably can’t fix that. However, Biden’s government says it is addressing obstacles related to access to WiFi and pharmacies. On his second day in office, the president signed an executive order setting out the importance of racial justice in access to vaccines.
“That’s the work … to make sure you understand the best mechanism for reaching people. And it can’t be over the phone. It may not be over the internet,” said an administrative officer involved in the planning. It may not do this through registrations. It could actually get enough vaccines to the community and say, hey, we have X vaccines for humans. Come here that day when it’s your turn to get your shot. “
Availability is only part of the puzzle, however. The hesitation of vaccines in the black community is the other element that experts are working on. Utibe Essien, a health researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, shares the history of racism in health care has generated deep distrust that continues to this day.
“[W]We see today that a black woman can show up at the hospital, tell a doctor that she is pregnant, and are more likely to die four to five times from that pregnancy than white women, ”said Essien.
Harris, as the most prominent black politician in America, could help ease this suspicion. But it cannot be taken for granted. Despite her historic 2020 candidacy, she struggled to gain a foothold among black voters. Harris was consistently ranked third among black voters in the POLITICO / Morning Consult polls during the campaign.
Many voters made it clear that they did not like Harris or believed she could do the job, but rather had doubts that America would actually vote for a black and South Asian woman to be president. And a White House official said selling yourself out to voters as the new senator is a whole different job than convincing people to be vaccinated as the most powerful woman in the federal government.
“We’re so far from elementary school. I don’t think that you can even place the elementary school and the place where the people were there and even compare it to now. We are at a different time and place, ”the officer said.
Still, health experts say a real solution will require a far broader approach, with doctors and government officials addressing racism as a public health issue.
“I think a lot of people think of Beyoncé and Serena like they’re going to the greatest celebrity you can show to get the vaccine. But when you talk to lay people, they want to know that their cousin around the corner got it and is okay, ”said Joia Crear-Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. “What about my uninsured aunt? Did she get it and is she fine? “
The government says she has and will continue to send everyone from Biden (who also received both doses publicly) to the First Lady to other members of the administration to speak as it is a “full court press”. However, the White House knows and also hopes that it will be different for Harris than for groups that have historically been more reluctant to get vaccinated.
“Joe Biden, who gets the vaccine, isn’t exactly comforting [older Black women], but parts of the Vice President’s life appeal to certain people. Whether she went to an HBCU or literally looks like me, but I wouldn’t say that is the only job she has been assigned, “said a White House official.