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President Biden Visits Raleigh To Bolster Statewide Vaccination Rates

Joe Biden
Susan Walsh
President Joe Biden speaks at the Green Road Community Center in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, June 24, 2021. Biden is in North Carolina to meet with frontline workers and volunteers and speak about the importance of getting vaccinated.

Updated June 24, 2021 at 8:35 p.m.

President Joe Biden was in Raleigh Thursday to encourage those who haven’t yet been vaccinated against Covid-19 to get a shot.

He spoke at the Green Road Community Center in northeast Raleigh. In that part of town, just 35% of adults are at least partially vaccinated, which is well below the rate for Wake County as a whole.

In the crowd were health workers and volunteers from WakeMed, Duke, and UNC Health who planned to knock on doors to ask people to get vaccinated. Biden said it’s easy to get a shot.

The best way to protect yourself against the virus and its variants is to be fully vaccinated. It works. It's free. It's safe. It's easy.
President Joe Biden

He emphasized that there are 1,400 pharmacies in the state that have already administered more than 2 million shots.

“Many of them are open 24 hours on Fridays," he said. "So go tomorrow if you’ve not gotten it done. Or if you’re knocking on doors tell them: 24 hours.”

For months, Biden had said he wanted to see 70% of the U.S. adult population at least partially vaccinated by the July 4 holiday, though earlier this week acknowledged the country would not meet that goal.

Across the nation, 65% of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. North Carolina lags that average; here, only 55% of the adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

In the audience were representatives from local hospitals, including Dr. David Wohl, who has helped lead vaccination efforts for UNC Health Care. While he doubted someone who is vaccine hesitant would suddenly have a change of heart simply from a presidential visit, Wohl took a more holistic view of Biden’s efforts.

“It may not be that somebody watching who's skeptical or on the fence about the vaccine now says, 'Oh, well, President Biden came to Raleigh, you know, now I'm going to get it,’” Wohl said. “But what I do think is that it's really important to lead by example. And it keeps our eye on this prize, it keeps our focus. And if the administration didn't walk the walk, didn't come and do these things, I think they'd be negligent.”

He added that it’s important to encourage the people who have boots on the ground, doing the hard work of getting high quality vaccine information into communities.

“There's a lot of people here that knock on doors, that work in clinics, that really are pushing people to get vaccinated. And this stirs them up,” Wohl said. “This, I think, has ripple effects. This is the kind of event that can reach communities and increase the number of people getting vaccines. So I definitely feel there's value here."

State Officials Also Urge People to Get Vaccinated

In North Carolina, those aged 50 and above make up 60% of the administered vaccine doses, even though they make up just 36% of the population. Those aged 12 to 49 years make up 40% of the vaccine doses, while making up 49% of the population. Children ages 11 and under are not eligible for the vaccine. In North Carolina, they make up 14% of the population.

Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have also been encouraging people to get vaccinated. The state is giving away $1 million to four winners of a lottery. The first drawing was held Wednesday, though state officials said they still need to verify the winner’s identity and check eligibility before announcing the winner publicly. The second of four drawings will be in two weeks.

To encourage more vaccinations, officials have tried to get vaccine doses into smaller health settings. According to the White House, more than 2.2 million doses have been administered at 1,400 North Carolina pharmacies. The federal government has sent more than $105 million to North Carolina to support vaccination programs. A federally-run vaccination site in Greensboro administered more than 143,000 shots, of which 23% went to Black or African American individuals, and 16% to people from Hispanic/Latino communities, according to data from the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Jason deBruyn
An audience in Raleigh awaits President Joe Biden's arrival to address the state's lagging vaccination rates and to encourage greater participation.

Before his arrival, the N.C. Republican Party criticized Biden for not reaching the vaccination goal. RNC spokeswoman Alex Nolley said that as a candidate, "Biden spent his entire campaign undermining the American people's trust in the vaccine." She pointed to comments Biden made last July in which he called for increased transparency.

“How are you going to distribute the vaccine when it arrives?" Biden said in July. "And the question of whether it’s real, when it’s there, that requires enormous transparency. You got to make all of it available to other experts across the nation, so they can look and see. So there’s consensus, this is a safe vaccine."

For months, especially since becoming president, Biden has repeatedly encouraged Americans to get the vaccine, saying that it is both safe and effective. In fact, there appears to be a correlation between low vaccination rates and counties that voted for former President Donald Trump, and experts largely blame misinformation on social media and in certain communities as a primary driver of vaccine hesitancy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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