'Most trusted voices are local doctors, clergy': WH Press Secretary Psaki talks vaccine hesitancy and access in TMJ4 exclusive

TMJ4'S Charles Benson looks at the 100 million vaccine shots nationwide in less than 100 days.
Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 19:39:22-04

The nation has exceeded President Biden's goal of giving out 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days, hitting the mark just 58 days into his presidency.

It comes as more cities like Milwaukee lift capacity restrictions at restaurants. Museums are opening and more in-person fans will be able to watch Bucks games and Brewers baseball.

The country is now vaccinating at a pace of 2.5 million a day as worries persist over fast-moving COVID-19 variants that could result in another surge in cases.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tells TMJ4's Charles Benson the best way to get more shots into arms, is to get more vaccines into the communities where people live.

Benson: "The pace right now is about 2.5 million a day. Is the president comfortable with that pace or will it pick up?"

Psaki: "I promise you the president is always going to push for the pace of vaccinating the American people to pick up. He asks his team a lot of detailed questions every day: Do we need more mobile clinics? Do we need more money for community health centers? What programs are working best? We're continuing to invest in them, so that we can increase our pace of vaccination."

Republicans say the Trump Administration deserves some of the credit for pushing vaccine production under Operation Warp Speed.

In Wisconsin, 13% of the state is now fully vaccinated. But in Milwaukee County, home to the state's largest urban area, 10% of the county is fully vaccinated. When you do the math, that is about a 27% drop from the state's pace.

Benson: "Is there a concern that large urban areas will not be able to keep up with this pace. They are falling behind?"

Psaki: "We take a very close look at what's working in different communities."

Psaki says the Biden Administration is working to increase access with mobile clinics, community clinics and local pharmacies.

"We obviously want that rate to be increasing," said Psaki. "I wouldn't say we are concerned at this point, but we are going to remain vigilant about what works best in urban communities in Milwaukee and around the country."

Psaki says it's not just about vaccine access but also vaccine hesitancy. An NPR/ Marist poll showed about one in four African Americans (25%) and a slightly higher percentage of whites (28%) are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In Wisconsin, there's a gender gap, more women have gotten the shot so far, 28% compared to 18% for men.

Benson: "Is that part of the concern as well?"

Psaki: "We look at all of this data."

Psaki says the White House has learned getting President Biden or even former presidents Trump or Obama to be the voice for getting people vaccinated isn't necessarily the best, most effective messaging.

"The most trusted voices are actually local doctors, local medical professionals, clergy, civic leaders," said Psaki. "So, one of the things we are focused on now is investing in and empowering and funding a lot of these local groups."

The White House says Wisconsin will benefit from President Biden's American Rescue plan with $2.68 billion in fiscal relief, $1.6 billion for K-12 schools and $1,400 per person in stimulus checks for 3.8 million state residents.

"The American Rescue Plan was actually very targeted on certain income levels, and I will say almost 90% of adults and children in Wisconsin are eligible," said Psaki.

All Wisconsin Republicans in Congress opposed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, saying it was too expensive.

"This is not COVID relief," said U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. "It is a massive debt burden that further mortgages our children’s future. I support helping people truly affected by the pandemic, but we should have targeted the unspent $1 trillion from previous bills first. The economy is already in a strong recovery, and this bill could spark harmful inflation. It was unneeded and unwise.”

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Coronavirus in Wisconsin

More data on Wisconsin's vaccination progress here.

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Check out county-by-county coronavirus case numbers here.

More information: COVID-19 on the Wisconsin DHS website

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