Novel coronavirus SARS CoV2, which causes COVID-19. Meanwhile, new COVID mutations called variants are now spreading across the U.S., including the Delta variant. Microphotography by National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s key COVID-19 advisers on Thursday defended the administration’s strategies for boosting vaccinations in the states, after Missouri’s governor said federal door-to-door outreach efforts are not welcome there.
Top Biden adviser Jeff Zients said anyone mischaracterizing the administration’s attempts is “doing a disservice to the country.”
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson voiced his opposition to door-to-door vaccination outreach on Wednesday, according to the Missouri Independent, amid an influx of federal help that the state requested aimed at tamping down a surge in COVID-19 infections there.
The first member of a newly created federal surge response team arrived in Missouri this week, with others, to join in person and remotely to help with data, research, vaccine uptake strategies and outreach.
Parson, a Republican, wrote on Facebook that he instructed state health department officials “to tell the federal government that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR welcome strategy in Missouri.”
Missouri, particularly, has been up against delta, a variant of the coronavirus that is highly contagious and has become the dominant variant in the United States, accounting for 51.7 percent of COVID-19 infections, according to CDC data. In Missouri, the figure is much higher — 73.3 percent.
(The figures are based on the proportions of “variants of concern” in each state, such as delta or the United Kingdom variant, according to the CDC.)
Zients, the COVID-19 response coordinator for the White House, was asked about Parson’s comments at a press briefing on Thursday. Zients first emphasized that federal efforts to persuade unvaccinated individuals to get a shot rely in part on “trusted messengers,” such as local doctors and community leaders, who are typically the people consulted for such advice.
Those efforts have had an impact on vaccinations across communities, Zients added, before responding more directly to Parson’s social media post, without mentioning him by name.
“For those individuals, organizations, that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives and help end this pandemic,” Zients said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also responded to Parson’s remark during Thursday’s briefing, saying that engaging local leaders on vaccination outreach has been effective. That approach and other strategies have boosted vaccinations in states like Florida and Georgia, she said.
A spokeswoman for Parson did not respond to a request for comment.
Several federal “surge response” teams are working with Missouri and a handful of other states, including Nevada, as counties within those states combat rising infections. Those increasing case counts come after the national COVID-19 infection rate had been falling.
The federal teams will provide expert support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on outbreak investigations; work with local health officials on getting more treatments for people with COVID-19; and help states increase vaccine competence and expand access to vaccinations and testing, according to the White House.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to make sure states have access to the specific federal resources and capabilities they need to fight the virus,” Zients said Thursday.
The areas where COVID-19 infections have been rising also tend to be the areas with the lowest vaccination rates, according to CDC officials.
Of the 173 counties with the highest case rates, the vast majority, 93%, have fewer than 40% of their residents vaccinated, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.
She emphasized that the existing vaccines have proven to perform well against the Delta variant of the virus that’s accounting for a fast-growing share of U.S. COVID-19 infections, and that areas with low vaccination rates will allow that variant to spread even more rapidly.
Preliminary data from several states during the last few months has indicated that more than 99% of deaths from COVID-19 were among people who were not vaccinated, Walensky added.
Asked specifically about the rising infections in southwestern Missouri, Walensky said that’s an area that federal officials are “following closely” due to low vaccination rates and the increasing case counts.
Meanwhile, The delta variant is in Florida, according to CDC data. It accounts for 13.2 percent of COVID-19 infections, lower than the United Kingdom variant, which accounts for 48.6 percent cases.
Florida Senate Democrats in the Legislature sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, raising concerns about a surging number of cases of the “dangerous and fast-spreading” delta variant.
“We, the undersigned members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, are urging you to join with your fellow Republican governors who are tapping the power of their office to strongly urge reluctant residents to get vaccinated,” the letter stated.
In addition, “With the Delta variant now threatening both lives and livelihoods, and the infection rate rising once again, more than just a passing suggestion to vaccinate is urgently needed – especially as close to 50% of Floridians remain wholly unvaccinated. As governor of this nation’s third largest state, it is incumbent on you to break through that reluctance and close the vulnerability gap with urgency and action.”
Florida Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.
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