Biden launches community corps to boost COVID vaccinations

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Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a virtual meeting with community leaders to discuss COVID-19 public education efforts in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – Seeking to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration on Thursday stepped up its outreach efforts to skeptical Americans, launching a coalition of community, religious and celebrity partners to promote COVID-19 shots in hard-hit communities.

The administration's “We Can Do This” campaign features television and social media ads, but it also relies on a community corps of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of the three approved vaccines. The campaign comes amid worries that reluctance to get vaccinated will delay the nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — and is kicking off as the U.S. is anticipating a boost in vaccine supply that will make all adult Americans eligible for vaccines by the beginning of May.

President Joe Biden encouraged more than 1,000 faith leaders on Thursday to continue their efforts to promote vaccinations in their communities. “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are to me as president of the United States,” Biden said.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy held a virtual meeting with the more than 275 inaugural members of the community corps on Thursday to kick off the effort. The Department of Health and Human Services was also encouraging other groups, as well as everyday Americans, to join the effort.

“You are the people that folks on the ground know and rely on and have a history with,” Harris said. “And when people are then making the decision to get vaccinated, they’re going to look to you.”

A White House official said Harris plans to take on a larger role in promoting the uptake of vaccines, in addition to her efforts selling the president's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and working to address the root causes of migration driving an increase in unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. along the southern border.

The focus on trusted validators stems from both internal and public surveys showing those skeptical of the vaccines are most likely to be swayed by local, community and medical encouragement to get vaccinated, rather than messages from politicians.

Courtney Rowe, the White House's COVID-19 director of strategic communications and engagement, briefed governors on the new initiative Tuesday, telling them that people “want to hear from those they know and trust.” She added that the initiative would be “empowering the leaders people want to hear from."