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Vice President Kamala Harris Touts St. Louis’ Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a virtual roundtable with women’s leadership groups on the American Rescue Plan on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. Harris spoke with St. Louis Public Radio on March 30 about the Biden administration's vaccination efforts.
Lawrence Jackson
The White House via Flickr
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a virtual roundtable with women’s leadership groups on the American Rescue Plan last month. Harris spoke with St. Louis Public Radio on March 30 about the Biden administration's vaccination efforts.

One of the enduring storylines of 2021 has been the inability of many St. Louis area residents to gain access to the COVID-19 vaccines. That’s prompted scores of people to travel hours from home for their shots.

But with an uptick in vaccine supply, more vaccination slots are becoming available in the St. Louis area. And Vice President Kamala Harris is hoping that a federal mass vaccination site at the America’s Center Convention Complex will compel more people to get their shots closer to home.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum on Tuesday, Harris talked about the Biden administration’s efforts to reduce travel time for people seeking the vaccine.

She also discussed how the Democratic administration is combatting vaccine hesitancy, especially among Republicans who may not be receptive to the Biden administration’s agenda.

(The questions and answers were edited for clarity and length.)

Jason Rosenbaum: St. Louis residents have traveled hundreds of miles to get their COVID-19 vaccines. How will using the America’s Center Convention Complex as a federal vaccination site prompt people to get their shots closer to home?

Vice President Kamala Harris: It will have the capacity to administer 3,000 shots a day. I’ll tell you that the president ... has recently made clear that we are committed to making sure that 90% of adults in America will be able to get a shot within five miles of their home. Because exactly what you’re talking about is what we want to avoid. We want to make sure that it’s going to be easy for people to get vaccinated, and that means making it accessible to them — not having to require people to travel long distances to get the vaccines that will save their lives.

In fact, by April 19, we are committed that 90% of the adults in the United States of America will be eligible for vaccinations. And really, our real push right now is to urge everyone who can be vaccinated, who is up to get vaccinated — that you do get vaccinated. It will save your life and the lives of our family members and community members.

Rosenbaum: The Biden administration is expanding vaccines to thousands of additional pharmacies. Do you see pharmacies as the eventual default place to get the vaccine in a couple of months, as opposed to mass vaccination centers like the one in St. Louis?

Harris: The pharmacies have been very effective. Because of course, people have routines about going to the pharmacy in their neighborhoods. Many of the pharmacies are also located in grocery stores where people regularly shop for food. So that has been proven to be very effective. But I’ll tell you what’s also effective is our community health centers.

You’ve heard the president talk about it: We are acutely aware of racial disparities in terms of who’s getting vaccinated, accessibility, and making sure there are trusted sources and locations where folks can go get vaccinated. And we have found that the community health centers are as effective, and in fact even more effective, than pharmacies.

So it’s both, in addition to the mass vaccination centers that we’re doing now. But the others will continue work in supporting and resourcing.

Rosenbaum: Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour recently did a report showing that Republicans are polled as the most vaccine-hesitant group. I understand that a Democratic administration is not a perfect messenger for a GOP-leaning state like Missouri. But since it is your responsibility to control the virus, how are you going to handle vaccine hesitancy for people who may not agree with the Biden administration politically?

Harris: Trust the public health professionals. Trust the doctors. Trust the scientists. We want you to take our word for it, but take the word of Dr. [Anthony] Fauci, of Dr. [Rochelle] Walensky — these scientists who have been doing this work forever. And frankly, I have no idea who they voted for in the last election. But I do know that they know their science, and they know their medicine. And they’re trusted by the people in their communities.

And they are trusted messengers for people who voted for whoever they voted for, across the board — but including so-called conservative voters. The doctors of America have been very clear and unambiguous that when it’s your turn, get vaccinated — it will save your life.

The Missouri State Capitol building located in Jefferson City, Missouri.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Republicans are balking at expanding Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act, even though the American Rescue Plan would bring more than $1 billion to the state for taking such action.

Rosenbaum: The American Rescue Plan is expected to bring billions of dollars to Missouri, including more money if the state expands Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. But some political leaders in the states that could take advantage of this idea, including Missouri, are balking because they don’t want to expand this program. Why do you feel like now is the time for a state to expand Medicaid and access that part of the American Rescue Plan?

Harris: The American people in a bipartisan way support what we did. It’s a whole other case when you’re talking about elected people.

And sadly, we’ve seen real partisanship around elected people, but not around the American people. In 2020, Missouri residents voted for Medicaid expansion. So the people voted for it. But I think it’s a different case when you’re talking about the elected officials and where they stand on the issue. But we’re very clear. Listen, Missouri is eligible for additional funds from the American Rescue Plan if it implements Medicaid expansion. So Missouri is positioned right now to get more money and to expand the number of people who have health care coverage.

But it’s in the hands right now of your elected leaders. But the people of Missouri have said they want it.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.