Second man Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, visited a south side barber shop in Englewood and a health center a few blocks away on Wednesday as part of the White House’s Biden campaign to persuade more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We have traveled across the country to deliver this message of hope,” Emhoff said. “But it’s also a message that we’re not there yet. A lot of people have already been vaccinated, but we need to do better. “
The White House conceded this week that despite best efforts, it will not meet its initial target of 70% of all partially vaccinated adults by July 4.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected socially and economically disadvantaged minority groups, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. Of the 150.4 million fully vaccinated Americans, black Americans make up only 8.8% of that number and Hispanics / Latinos 14.2%.
Englewood has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the city, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Wednesday’s event at It’s Official Barbershop, located at 1256 W 63rd St., was also part of Biden’s “Shots at the Shop,” an initiative to engage black-owned hair salons and beauty salons to support local vaccine education and awareness efforts.
Channal Coleman, store owner and former frontline worker, told Emhoff, “Working in nursing, we hear all the time, ‘I don’t want to get the shot… it’s going to give me COVID. “
Coleman said “Shots at the Shop” is a start in the right direction to encourage black communities to trust the vaccine.
“There’s a lot of talk in the barbershop,” Coleman said. “It’s a great meeting place for conversation. Beauty salons and hair salons will help you get started.
She added that now it’s a matter of educating hesitant clients, letting them know that she trusts science enough to say that she has been vaccinated and that vaccines have historically prevented viruses like the flu.
But she also believes there is still work to be done, especially to make immunization education, testing and vaccines more convenient and accessible.
Emhoff was accompanied by Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for COVID-19 Equity.
Webb told those at It’s Official Barbershop that he lives in Chicago and saw how barbershops “were so involved in public health initiatives.”
For Webb, the push for community-level vaccinations was also personal.
“I remember the very first days of this pandemic in my hospital,” Webb said outside the Esperanza Health Clinic at 6057 S. Western Ave. “I remember the first day I walked into the unit (COVID-19) and saw the list of those who were admitted with COVID-19 … and they were all black and brown. They were coming. all from communities like mine, which looked like members of my family. ”
Participants at the clinic rally praised local efforts by the Biden administration to promote vaccinations.
“It was amazing,” said Martiza Avila, a contact tracer with Southwest Organizing Project, one of Esperanza Health’s partners. “It’s nice to know that they are reaching out to these communities. “
For Avila’s fellow contract tracer Olivia Torres, see Emhoff and Webb said the White House has been invested in helping minority communities weather the toll of the pandemic.
“They shared a message about the importance of this, especially for families,” Torres said.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the south and west sides.