By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Doug Emhoff, the U.S. Second Gentleman, on Thursday stressed the importance of COVID-19 vaccines during a visit to Birmingham, telling a group of community members that the doses are about helping others.
“You’re doing it for your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, people that you may never meet. You’ve got to do it for them,” said Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris’s husband, during a visit at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School which housed a vaccination clinic in west Birmingham. “And you don’t want to be that person who has the virus, doesn’t feel sick, but you’re accidentally spreading it to others unknowingly.”
Vaccines were being administered at Jackson-Olin as part of the series of clinics that Birmingham City Schools (BCS) and Alabama Regional Medical Services (ARMS) have been operating at sites across the city.
BCS superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed.d said he’s experienced the devastating impact of COVID-19. “We lost employees to this virus. Just yesterday, I became aware of another employee who died of a COVID-related complication,” he said. “Here at Jackson-Olin High School, over the past year, we lost a student to COVID-19. Many of us have lost family members, we’ve lost friends.”
Making vaccinations available for minors can make a difference, said ARMS medical director Yocunda Clayton.
“Ages 12 and above can now get vaccinations,” she said. “That allows for our students to be safe, their parents to be safe, their teachers to be safe and all the communities that they interact with.”
While 63 percent of adults have been vaccinated nationwide, only 33.79 percent of Jefferson County’s population is currently set to receive the full vaccine series, fewer than half of Biden’s goal for the country.
Emhoff, who came to the city as part of a nationwide speaking trip to increase vaccination numbers, said Birmingham needs more COVID-19 vaccines administered to reach President Biden’s 70 percent vaccinated goal.
“The president threw down a target of 70 percent by July 4, and here in Birmingham, Alabama, we have work to do,” Emhoff said.
Vaccinated people have to tell others about the importance of the shot, according to Emhoff.
“I need your help. We need your help. You have to go out, like you have been, into the communities and talk about why. Why is it so important to get vaccinated?”
Emhoff also said new variants of the virus are worse than the original.
“And now we’re hearing about variants. Maybe someone might think, ‘Well, so far so good. I dodged it’ or ‘I’m young enough, and it’s not going to affect me,’ but with these variants, it’s a different story. They’re more transmissible, more dangerous, and they could spread very quickly.”
Cameron Webb, a doctor who has been serving in the White House as the senior policy advisor for COVID-19 equity since January said he remembered working in the COVID ward of the University of Virginia hospital before the release of the vaccine.
“A lot of people thought it was older folks who were getting sick, but no. I remember that very first week, there was a 25-year-old young man—looked a lot like my younger brother—who could not breathe, and those are triggering words for a young Black man in America,” said Webb, who is Black. “I increased his level of oxygen so much that I had to send him to the medical ICU. This is the toll of this pandemic.”
When Webb returned to that COVID ward after receiving the vaccine, he felt completely different, he said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said leaders of every level need to help increase the number of vaccinations.
“There’s an opportunity for all of us to use our platform, as school members, as superintendent, as principal, as mayor and as community leaders to share with those we represent, to share with those in our network, encourage those we know,” Woodfin said. “If you have not been vaccinated, now is the time because we still have a priority in saving lives.”
For more information about how and where to get the vaccine, visit https://vaccines.gov.