- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Biden administration on Thursday said its door-to-door campaign to boost COVID-19 vaccinations will hinge on doctors and trusted locals, not government agents, and scolded those pushing “misinformation” about the effort.

President Biden announced the localized effort on Tuesday, sparking conservative backlash. Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons said he will offer locations for people to get vaccinated but will not welcome “government employees or agents” going door to door to promote the shots, while Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked Mr. Biden for assurance that federal employees won’t be using medical records to single out the unvaccinated and show up at their door.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said the effort has been misunderstood.

“The best people to talk about vaccinations with those who have questions are local trusted messengers — doctors, faith leaders, community leaders. As part of our efforts, trusted messengers may go door to door,” Mr. Zients said. “We’ve seen movement [in vaccination rates] by going person by person, community by community.

“I would say 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,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said the federal government does not maintain a database of who is vaccinated or not “and we have no plans to.”

The clarification comes amid a wider debate about how aggressive the government, employers or schools should be in pushing or mandating the shots, as the vaccination campaign stalls out.

Less than half of the U.S. population — 48% — is fully vaccinated, and Mr. Zients said there is an emerging divide around who gets sick.

“Virtually all COVID hospitalization and deaths are now occurring among unvaccinated individuals,” he said. “The bottom line is there is simply no reason that anyone 12 and older should be severely impacted by this virus. So our focus is on reaching those who have still not made the choice to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.”

The Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis says it won’t be a choice for its 1,100 workers. They must get the shots by the end of August as a condition of employment.

Neel Kashkari, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Fed, said the policy made sense because the bank is pivoting from fully remote efforts to office-based collaboration and operations that require public interaction.

“While we will enjoy more flexibility in where we work going forward, we are not going to be a fully remote institution. In order to fulfill our public-service mission, we need more face-to-face contact than remote work allows, but there is no way for us to bring a critical mass of our staff back into our facilities and maintain social distancing. Hence, we need our employees to be vaccinated,” he wrote in a memo posted Wednesday.

He said there will be exemptions for workers who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or “sincerely held” religious beliefs. The policy will apply to new hires.

Mr. Kashkari said 82% of the Minneapolis Fed workforce has been vaccinated.

“Most of the remaining 18 percent have not told us their vaccination plans, and a small percentage have indicated they do not plan to get vaccinated,” he said. “With so many of our employees voluntarily doing their part to keep us safe, asking our remaining colleagues to also do their part just makes sense. While some staff may be unhappy with this new requirement, we believe most will appreciate the actions we are taking on our collective behalf.”

The decision makes the Minneapolis Fed the latest major employer to jump into the debate. Many universities are requiring vaccination before the fall semester, while a requirement at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas sparked protests and a lawsuit from holdouts. A judge last month sided with the hospital in dismissing a lawsuit from 117 hospital employees who objected to the mandate.

Some Republican governors have banned employers and public institutions from requiring proof of vaccination, dubbing it government overreach that could result in unequal treatment within society.

Turning Point USA, a conservative group for youth that supports former President Donald Trump, launched a “No Forced Vax” campaign Thursday to combat university and school mandates that bar unvaccinated persons from campus. The campaign will feature digital campaigns and local gatherings to resist mandates.

“I’m not anti-COVID vaccination, and I’m not pro-COVID vaccination — I’m COVID vaccine-agnostic,” said founder and President Charlie Kirk. “But I am 100% against mandating this vaccination. At its core, this issue is not about the vaccine. This is about freedom and information.”

The White House has studiously avoided talk of mandates at the federal level, fearing it would be counterproductive to strong-arm people who are resistant to vaccines in part because they don’t trust the government.

Mr. Zients said the administration will keep trying to convince people that vaccination is in their interest.

“Each person in this phase will take longer to reach but that makes them no less important,” Mr. Zients said. “Our goal is simple. get more and more Americans vaccinated.”

U.S. officials are striking a tone of urgency as the fast-moving delta variant becomes dominant and drives outbreaks, particularly in poorly vaccinated areas like southwestern Missouri.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the U.S. has a rolling seven-day average of 13,900 cases per day and 2,000 hospitalizations per day — increases of 11% and 7%, respectively — over the prior seven-day period.

“We are starting to see some new and concerning trends. Simply put, in areas of low vaccination coverage, cases and hospitalizations are up,” she said.

She also said places like summer camps without adequate disease control are seeing outbreaks.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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