REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AT A COVID-19 VACCINATION MOBILIZATION EVENT
Clark Atlanta University
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone. (Laughs.) (Applause.) It is so good to be back in Atlanta. Happy afternoon, everyone. (Applause.) Can we please hear it for Vice President Grace Hall? (Applause.) We were talking backstage and sharing notes about what it means to be Vice President. (Laughter.)
I’m so happy to be here and with all of the longstanding friends — with Reverend Warnock; we were just at Ebenezer before we came here. It was so good to be with you. We were there talking about, of course, what is happening in terms of the community’s power to heal, the community’s power to do the work that we know must be done in the spirit of what the Bible and everything else about life tells us about the importance of “love thy neighbor” — “love thy neighbor.”
And that truly is the spirit with which we are gathered today: Understanding that as we have been taught, yes, your neighbor may be the person who lives next door, who — whose kids go to the same school as yours, where you, you know, go to the same local park, but what we’ve also been taught is your neighbor might be a perfect stranger and, in whose face, you see a friend. And that is at the essence of why we are here and our “We Can Do This” effort, which is saying that we all have the ability, the power, if not the duty, to think about how we can live our lives and do deeds in the course of our life that are about lifting each other up, even if we just met a few seconds ago.
So that’s why I am here. First of all, just to say thank you to everyone: to Senator Raphael Warnock; to Senator Jon Ossoff; to our great Congresswoman Nikema Williams — (applause); Congressman Hank Johnson, who I know is here; Commissioner Kathleen Toomey; and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Thank you all so very much for working so hard for the people of Georgia.
And, Raphael Warnock, you said it right: We have a lot to thank Georgia for. So thank you all very much. (Applause.) (Laughs.) Thank you very much.
And we also have a lot of HBCUs represented here today. (Applause.) (Laughs.) And — you know. (Laughter.) And I do want to acknowledge the HBCU presidents who are here. Of course, our host President George French Jr. of Clark Atlanta University. (Applause.) We have President Mary Schmidt Campbell of Spelman College. (Applause.) President Kevin James of Morris Brown College. (Applause.) President Valerie Montgomery Rice of Morehouse School of Medicine. President David Thomas of Morehouse College. (Applause.) President Matthew Wesley Williams of ITC. (Applause.)
So I want to thank all of these leaders — these national leaders on the issue of education and so much more, for all you do every day to educate the future of America.
So — and I — and we have a lot of students here. Can I — can I hear and see the students who are here today? (Applause.) There we go.
You know, every important movement, as far as I’m concerned, in our nation, every important beginning of a new era, every important moment that displayed what leadership can and should look like and fight for has been led by our students, has been led by our students. And so, students, I want to thank you for not just the leaders you will become but the leaders you are right now. And thank you for volunteering your time to go out into the community and help folks get vaccinated.
Now, you all know and — and Senator Warnock shared with you, I am also a proud graduate of an HBCU. (Applause.) And there is a particular pride of — hopefully with not too much bravado — (laughter) — but there is a particular pride — (laughs) — that we who have attended, we who have graduated from an HBCU have in that shared experience.
As HBCU students, you all know — you know all that you are. You are part of a legacy. You are part of a history that continues to reveal itself. You are part of a legacy of those who lead with purpose, fueled by the important principle of self-determination — those who fought for progress, who knew their power; knew that, whatever their chosen profession, that they are duty-bound to dedicate themselves to a life of service, even when faced with incredible adversity. That’s who you are. That’s who you were born as and who you continue to be.
And as we have discussed, we are here to talk about this vaccine and the importance of folks getting vaccinated. And so, let’s talk about this moment in which you find your role of leadership.
You know, there have been many, many, many times over the past year that we have all felt so powerless in the face of this virus. But, students, remember: You are powerful. And I am here to tell you that we, together, have the power to end this pandemic.
Atlanta is powerful. When we, as Americans, join together, we are powerful. And so, that is this moment that we find ourselves in: When in the face of so much adversity on multiple levels, but, in particular, on the issue today of the vaccine and COVID, let’s recognize that we have power in every moment of crisis, including this one.
And let’s think, with that spirit, of how far we’ve come as a nation. Five months ago, we were averaging 185,000 new cases a day. Today, COVID-19 case numbers are at their lowest point since the start of the pandemic. Deaths from COVID-19 have fallen by 90 percent. Students are back in school, in person. People of faith are back in the pews. Small businesses are reopening, and families are planning reunions again. All because over 64 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
And here’s what I know: When the American people come together, in this spirit of community, we can do anything. Anything. And that’s why, from the very start of our administration, President Joe Biden and I set a very ambitious goal. Some people said, “Well, it was too ambitious.” But we said, “Let’s get America vaccinated.”
And we said we would get 100 million shots in arms in our first 100 days. Well, we passed that goal on Day 58. And then we said — (applause) — yes, with your help, with your help. And then we said we would get 200 million shots in arms in 100 days, and we passed that goal on Day 92. (Applause.)
And so, students, as an aside, part of the story that I’m sharing with you is: Don’t you ever let anybody tell you you are too ambitious to achieve what you know you can get done. (Applause.)
So then, President Joe Biden and I said, “Well, let’s get to work and get 70 percent of American adults at least one shot by the Fourth of July.” And so, now, together, with Made to Save and partners across the country, we, together, are working to meet that goal.
And so that’s why I’m here today. And that’s why our “We Can Do This” bus — did you all see it outside? — rolled into Atlanta today. And that’s why we are having this Month of Action and all of you are volunteering. Because even though we have made a lot of progress, there are still a whole lot of folks out there who are not vaccinated.
In Fulton County, 49 percent of residents have received at least one shot. So that’s less than half the population. In Georgia, as a whole, it’s only 42 percent.
So, we know what the numbers tell us. We got to get those numbers up. We can do better. And we have to address, in so doing, the legitimate barriers that stand in the way of some folks getting the vaccine. Because we’ve got to be clear-eyed and speak truth, okay? And so, this is where you come in, which is to help us address those issues.
So, let me update you, for example, on what we are up to in that regard, so that you know, when you are out there, what to share with people when you’re canvassing in your community to help address their legitimate concerns and needs.
So, for example, if you knock on the door, and someone says they don’t have the time to get the vaccine — because people are busy; they’re trying to just make it through the day — or they say that pharmacies are never open when they do have time, well, let’s address that. Because now, you can let them know that pharmacies across our country are keeping their doors open for 24 hours on Fridays in June, including today. (Applause.) Right?
Because we need to meet people where they are. Some folks are working two jobs. Some folks are working three jobs. So let’s figure out how we can make it accessible for them to get a vaccine when they’re able.
And what if they say they can’t miss work? Well, you can tell them that there are employers across the country who are offering paid time off for their employees to get vaccinated. And we want to encourage and challenge more employers to do the same.
Employers who are doing that here in the state of Georgia are Delta and Bank of America and Marriott. And we want to encourage that there are others who will meet that challenge because it’s just the right thing to do. It’s about being a good corporate citizen.
Another issue people might raise is the unavailability of childcare. Right? You’re trying to raise your children. Who’s going to take care of the kids while you go to get the vaccine? Or if you’re getting the kind of vaccine where you need two? Or you need — you need some time to just be able to leave the house and wait for the period of time you got to wait. And so — and other folks who need time to recover after they get the shot — right? — and may need a little moment where they need some help with their kids.
So we have partnered with the YMCA, with KinderCare, and the Learning Care Group to provide free childcare for both vaccination and recovery. Right? (Applause.)
And again, that’s because we need to meet people where they are. We can’t have these lofty ideals about how everybody needs to get vaccinated and, God forbid, associate judgment with that without recognizing the challenges people have in their lives every day. So that’s the childcare piece.
You might run across people as you’re out talking and knocking that — folks might say, “I don’t have a car.” Or, “There’s no public transportation or bus that comes by my house.” And that’s fair, because how can we expect them to get to a vaccination site?
Well, now, as part of the solution, rideshare companies are giving free rides to and from vaccination centers. Right? (Applause.)
So part of the work we’re going to be doing with our outreach is letting people know about the things that are available to support them. Because I have found, in my career and my life, that often there may be resources available, but we need to do a better job of letting people know what’s out there to help them. And we can’t be upset because they don’t know. That says we need to do a better job of letting them know. Right? (Applause.) And so that’s where we’re here to ask for your help, so we can address all of these barriers.
And there’s another one — and another issue that I think is perhaps one of our biggest barriers. And it’s the issue of information and, in particular, misinformation. So we need to deal with that.
And — and this is why we need you out in the community. There are people who are uncertain about getting vaccinated. And, you know, I find a lot of people — there — there are few people that are saying, “I will not, under any circumstances, get vaccinated.” But there are some people — a lot of people who might say, “I haven’t been vaccinated yet because I’m just not sure. You know, I’m hearing all this stuff, and I don’t know what to think.” They may question the safety or the efficacy, the — does the vaccine work? And they may have heard things that aren’t quite true.
And so let’s arm ourselves with the truth to arm them with the truth. These vaccines were developed over a decade by scientists like Dr. Kizzy Corbett — a nationally recognized scientist who also happens to be a Black woman. (Applause.)
So when people say, “Oh, it seems like this vaccine just came about overnight.” No, it didn’t. It actually is the result of many, many, many years of research. And then they also went through what we call the “FDA clinical trials” so that they would be ensured to be safe, where they were tested on a whole lot of people.
All of that to say: We can say with confidence the vaccines are safe — they are safe, and they are free, and they are effective.
And an important point to note is that virtually every person — and this is important to say — virtually every person who is in the hospital right now sick with COVID-19, where their families are sitting by the bed, holding their hand — almost every one of those persons is unvaccinated.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Say that.
CHILD AUDIENCE MEMBER: Say that! (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Almost every one of them is unvaccinated. (Laughter.) Let the children speak. (Laughter.)
So, students, if you call someone up and they have questions about the vaccine and its safety, that’s okay. And let them know we can get them the information that we have. And they can go to a website: Vaccines.gov. And they can find a place also on that website to find where they can get vaccinated.
And, you know, I got my second shot back in January, and I’m so glad I did. And I felt — yeah, I felt a little off for a few hours during the next day, but that was it. And now I can stand here with my mask off and talk with all of you. And that trade-off — well, it was 100 percent worth it.
So, you know how I started talking about our power and about how getting vaccinated is taking back our power from this virus. And I believe that, because when you are vaccinated, when you get vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself. You are protecting your family. You are protecting your neighbors. You are protecting people you may never meet.
Getting vaccinated is about building the power of community. Getting vaccinated is about building the power of our country. And we can do this, Georgia. I know we can do this.
So let us work together and do everything that we know is within our power to get in front of this thing. And then let’s translate that power into everything else that is before us, in terms of the unfinished work that needs to be done.
So, with that, I thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)