The inoculation rate has fallen so dramatically from its peak in March that Georgia officials have shuttered mass vaccination sites and turned away more than 3 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines allocated to the state by the federal government. Meanwhile, Georgia has tens of thousands of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that are in danger of expiring.
The current rate has some experts worried Georgia may never reach herd immunity via vaccination. That’s particularly troublesome after the state recently recorded its first cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus first seen in India. The variant is significantly more contagious than other strains and seems to carry a higher risk of hospitalization, researchers say.
Harris’ visit to two historically Black institutions — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual home at Ebenezer Baptist and Clark Atlanta — is meant to highlight outreach to minority communities where vaccination rates have lagged, due to logistical hurdles, mistrust of the government and other factors.
But the country’s first Black and Asian American vice president is steering clear of the group that’s the most vaccine hesitant: white Republican men in more rural corners of the state.
Public health officials have transitioned to a smaller-scale, more labor-intensive strategy in recent weeks to persuade people to get unvaccinated.
That includes mobile vaccination sites to find people who want the vaccine but haven’t been able to take off work or find transportation as well as incentives from private companies, from Kroger to the Atlanta Braves, such as cash prizes and baseball tickets if they agree to get inoculated on-site.
The White House has also backed community-based outreach initiatives, including an effort to recruit 1,000 Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons in Atlanta and other cities to persuade customers to get the shot.
Harris last visited Atlanta in March, meeting with leaders from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community after the shooting deaths of eight people, including six Asian women, at spas around the metro area. Along with President Joe Biden, Harris also visited the CDC to thank health care workers working to end the coronavirus pandemic.
The vice president’s meeting on voting rights comes as Senate Democrats continue to hash out compromise language to their sweeping elections bill that would be acceptable to the party’s centrist and progressive wings. Republican leaders have flatly rejected the For the People Act, which Democrats see as a way to balance out the passage of GOP elections overhauls in states like Georgia.