Via Teleconference

12:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  That’s a very generous introduction.  (Laughs.)  I hope that’s true, but I’m not so sure.

Look, folks, first of all, I want to — I want to thank you all for this — the faith community leaders getting together.  And I want to thank my buddy, Cedric, for honchoing this for me and — because we both believe that you have profound influence on not only your congregations, but on the public at large.  You are the community leaders.  And Jill and I want to send our warmest wishes to all of you, your families, your congregations, and your communities on this — this holiday and holy season.

You know, what I always find remarkable as one of my avocations is — and I think I drive Cedric crazy and some of you crazy — has been theology and comparative religion.  And one of the interesting things — think — think about the confluence of the — this season marks remarkable confluence of holy days across a number of traditions. 

Jill and I, we’re looking forward to our Easter celebration, where we get to — get to get together with our family.  And because we’ve had the great honor of being vaccinated, we may be able to get together with some of them this Easter.  And — but Passover began last week.  The Hindu holiday of Holi was last week.  Ramadan is right around the corner. 

And, you know it’s not only a time of reverence and celebration, it’s one of the most important opportunities of the year to connect with your congregations and with your communities.  And all of the great confessional faiths have the same notion about the value of human beings and the value in that we’re made in the image of God, and that’s why all of you gotten involved in the — in the way you have.  And no one — no one — no one is — is not important; everyone is important.

And so, you know, everybody is looking to you this season. They — you know, they trust you.  It’s one of the most important opportunities of the year to connect with your congregations.  And I hope that doesn’t sound instructive; I don’t mean to sound that way.  I — you know better than I do. But it’s — but to connect with your congregations and those in your community.

And so, you know, I think they’re looking to you this season.  As I said, they trust you.  And you have a chance to deliver not only a spiritual direction, but comfort and guidance; prayers of joy, love, reflection; you know, rebirth that’s synonymous with these holidays.  Because in the last year, you’ve been through — we’ve been through an awful lot of tough, tough times, particularly all of you in the faith community. 

How many times did you watch on a cell phone a parishioner having to say goodbye to his mother or father in a — in a ward where they couldn’t — they couldn’t be there? A nurse holding up that phone.  And all — how many times have you lamented the fact that leaders in your faith community have not even been able to have the funerals that they deserve and the remembrance that is so important because there’s a finality?  How many of you have not been able to, you know, be at the cemetery site and with the family?  I mean — and there’s so many things that people look to you for comfort for.

And, you know, I said earlier this week, we’re in a race against this virus and the race is far from over.  You know, it’s — we — it’s taken far too many moms and dads; sisters; brothers; you know, grandpops, grandmoms.  You know.  And they — we put dreams and plans on hold, and it’s kept us physically apart, which is — which is not the instinct of human beings.  They want to congregate.  They want to be with other — and they want to be with one another of like — like views, like conscience, like values. 

And so, we all know many families are still going without a familiar comfort to the season.  We know that, despite the progress we’ve made, this fight is far from over. 

We also know that signs of hope have emerged.  I was — we were looking at a mass vaccination site out in — I think it was in Arizona, and the nurse was talking to us — virtual.  And the nurse was saying that — she said — well, I was asking her how many shots had been given, and she said, “These are shots of hope.  These are shots of hope.”  Hope springs eternal.  You’re a source of so much hope.

And more than a — we’ve now given — I’m very proud to say we’ve administered over 130 million shots.  And 75 percent of all seniors now have received the shots, which is a drastic change and increases exponentially the prospect that they’ll live out their lives in the way they anticipated.  And, you know, 100 million of those shots in fewer than nine weeks, and more every day. 

And families are getting the financial relief they need so they can take a breath.  I don’t know how many of you have had to carry people who have been — in your communities — because they’ve been — the food shortages — the failure — people getting thrown out of their apartments or not able to pay their mortgage. 

Well, with the legislation I was able to (inaudible) — with the help of Cedric and so many other people — get passed, it has brought genuine relief — serious, serious relief to people.  It’s about — it’s about, you know, “What you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”  I mean, it’s — this is really — it is significant.  

And also, you know, we launched a program to — because, you know, this has been an unequal killer.  It has focused monly [sic] — you know, the African American community; the Hispanic community; the AAP- — the Asian Pacific community.  It has — it has damaged them much more than others.  They are three to four times more likely to die if they’ve gotten the COVID.  And they’re about the same percentage likely to get the COVID over the traditional — the remainder of the white population.  And so I’ve been — we’ve set up, in our effort to deal with COVID and the COVID team we put together, a scientist who is nothing but racial equity to make sure we can get to the people.

And, by the way, I need not tell you all I come from a community that has a very large African American population, and I spent a lot of time in the Black church because it does more for my community than most anything else.  And I — I don’t know — you know, I can remember discussions way back — when I was a kid getting started in public life — about how there was a distrust for — for some docs and mass vaccination things. 

And even when we were — I — my wife put together an ability to get mammogram vans to go around communities.  There’s distrust because, you know, there have been experimentation on African Americans in World War Two — so many things where the treatment has not been fair and decent. 

So I wanted to make — you know, Cedric and I want to make sure that this does not ever happen again.  And we’ve been totally science-based.  But you’re trusted voices in the community.  You know, this is the moment that the people you serve are looking for — for direction, looking for some help.

And we need to get the word out.  And the word is that these vaccines are safe, I promise you.  I promise you they’re safe.  That’s why I’ve made sure to get one on television so people can see the President of the United States.  Why would I take a vaccine that I thought wasn’t safe?  And they’re safe.

And — but we also made it more available.  One of the things we did — and initially caused a little bit of a stir among some governors — but, you know, we made vaccinations available to 17,000 local pharmacies because that’s where people were most comfortable — where they can go. 

And then I’ve scaled that up to now 40,000 local pharmacies and stores you can get these shots.  This is going to put vaccination sites within five miles of 90 percent of all Americans. 

We also have hundreds of mobile vehicles going out in rural and African American and Hispanic communities because a lot of people that are older, they can’t get to where they have to go. 

And the — and Health and Human Services is making $3 billion in grants available for community groups within states to increase access at our federally run vaccination centers.  We partner with faith-based organizations — many of you on the phone, I’m sure — to reverse the vaccine, you know, delay and make sure we can reserve appointments for members. 

And we’re soon going to be in place where everybody — every American will be able to get the vaccine and should get in line.  There should be no restrictions based on age any longer because we’re able to get over — over — you know, we’ve gotten millions and millions of shots — vaccines available. 

So, look, the point I guess I’m trying to make is: The faith community — as faith community leaders, you’ve been critical partners with us in our COVID response and our vaccine efforts already, including many of you on this call.

We’re enormously grateful for all you’ve done, including help educate folks about the relief we’re delivering through the Rescue Plan; the $1,400; money for childcare; the Childcare [Child] Tax Credit, which is — we’re reducing child poverty by 40 percent — are cutting it in half, actually — 50 percent.  And because of what we’ve been able to do to provide funding for people who have children — and, anyway, it’s a long — I don’t want — I’m going on too long. 

But we need you to spread the word.  Let people in our communities, in your communities know how important it is to get everyone vaccinated when it’s their turn.  And soon, they’ll just be able to just line up and just get their name on a list.  And that’s how we’re going to defeat this virus.  And that’s how we’re going to come together again in our communities, in our houses of worship, in my view. 

You know, I know people think I’m kidding when I — what I’m worried about now, as the scientists tell me, is that people are getting too cavalier — where, you know, we’re traveling a great deal, we’re gathering in larger crowds — and people aren’t wearing their masks, aren’t social distancing, aren’t washing their hands.  And you see that it’s starting to spike in other areas again. 

So we’re not finished with this.  So, you know — and I don’t, you know — some people think that’s an imposition on people’s freedom.  I think it’s the — a godly thing to do.  Protect your brother and sister.  That’s what this is about.  It’s about protecting people.  It’s a patriotic duty I think we have.

But they’re going to listen to your words more than they are me as President of the United States.  When they’re in your sanctuaries, you can talk to them about what we have to do, what’s available, and not to be fearful — not to be fearful getting the vaccine. 

And I’ve said, I think it’s — I guess I should say and I’ll conclude by saying: I think it’s more than a patriotic duty; I think it’s a moral duty.  Put an end to the dark years behind us — a dark year — and do our part to spread the light in the spirit of all holidays of this spring season. 

I want to thank you all for what you’re doing.  I look forward to being able to get back into houses of worship and visit like I have in the past and will hope to do again. 

But, in the meantime, God bless you all.  Thank you for looking out for your — our brethren.  And I think we can get this done.  But thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

12:28 P.M. EDT

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