Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged the “righteous, righteous reason” Black Americans are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 but still urged Chicagoans to line up for shots at the United Center starting next week when the mass-vaccination site there opens.
In an exclusive interview with WBEZ Wednesday, Harris said more than two out of three Black Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from the novel coronavirus.
“It is literally killing the community at highly disproportionate rates,” Harris told WBEZ. “The suffering, the grief, is immeasurable, not to mention the economic impact and the educational impact it is disproportionately having on the Black community.”
The vice president is promoting the federal government’s role in setting up the United Center mass vaccination site and the administration’s desire to confront vaccine hesitancy among people of color.
Harris also spoke specifically to the historical medical mistreatment of African Americans that has led many to distrust the government’s push to get them vaccinated.
“In terms of the history, well look, the Tuskegee experiments, we can go through history and know that there is a righteous, righteous reason for folks to be skeptical when they are and if they are, as they are, aware of the history on these issues,” said Harris in her first interview with a Chicago media outlet since she and President Joe Biden took control of the White House in January.
“And we must always speak the truth about it. We should never forget it. But on this issue, in this year of our Lord 2021, folks have to take this vaccine when it is their turn,” she said. “It is safe, and it will save lives.”
The reluctance by some Black and brown residents to get vaccinated is a problem Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration warned about as far back as December. Current state data bears out that both Black and Latino residents are getting vaccinated at a vastly smaller rate than their overall share of the population.
The Biden administration has touted the United Center site as a well-known venue within a 30-minute drive of 2.9 million people, of whom 69% are people of color, 12% are elderly and nearly 190,000 are in poverty.
The United Center site is scheduled to begin accepting appointments at 8:30 a.m. Thursday from those 65 and older who have not yet been vaccinated – a group the city estimates could be as large as 250,000 people.
The location is one of 18 federally-established, mass-vaccination sites the White House has set up around the country in socially vulnerable, medically underserved areas hard hit by COVID-19.
The operation at the United Center will be capable of administering 6,000 shots per day.
The first of those doses will wind up going into arms next Wednesday in a tent complex on the United Center’s northeast parking area. For the next eight weeks, shots will be given out in both on a walk-up basis and in a drive-through format.
Appointments for vaccinations at the site can be made online at zocdoc.com/vaccine. People also may call 312-746-4835 to make appointments 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. While seniors will get first dibs, the state is opening up appointments to others who are currently eligible beginning 4 p.m. Sunday.
Harris’ focus on vaccination efforts in the country’s mid-section Wednesday comes as the president announced Tuesday that enough vaccines would exist by the end of May to accommodate all adults in the country.
In Chicago, more than 548,000 vaccine doses have been administered so far, and more than 178,000 people are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. That fully vaccinated total accounts for more than 6% of the city’s 2.7 million residents.
Statewide, more than 906,000 people are fully vaccinated, which accounts for about 7% of Illinois’ population, IDPH reported Wednesday.
In Washington, Harris and President Joe Biden are entering a critical phase toward passing their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which now sits in the U.S. Senate.
The vice president has come under increasing pressure from progressives within the Democratic Party to use her position as President of the Senate to safeguard a national $15-an-hour minimum wage in the stimulus package. The Senate parliamentarian has ruled the minimum wage hike has to be stripped out of the massive spending plan because it doesn’t fit within the narrow and complicated rules that enable the chamber to pass budget measures with simple majorities, rather than the 60 votes necessary to pass most bills.
The White House has said the president was “disappointed” in the parliamentarian’s decision but made clear Harris won’t overturn it.
Pritzker’s administration has a lot riding on congressional passage of the stimulus plan. It’s expected to provide more than $7.5 billion to the state to help offset COVID-19 related costs and revenue losses triggered by the pandemic.