Columbia Mayor Benjamin meets with Dr. Anthony Fauci for vaccination talk

·4 min read

The campaign to get more Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 is an effort that stretches from local neighborhoods all the way to the White House.

On Tuesday, that combination of local and national efforts came into a singular focus, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, met virtually with a handful of mayors with the national U.S. Conference of Mayors, including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Fauci heard from several mayors about efforts they are undertaking in their respective cities to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. Columbia is one of more than 100 cities across America that is part of the Mayors Challenge, a competition to see which city can grow its vaccination rate the most by July 4. The contest was announced in early June by the Biden Administration.

Biden set an ambitious goal to have at least 70% of Americans receive at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot by July 4. The White House on Tuesday publicly acknowledged the nation is likely to come up just short of that goal. A New York Times analysis shows the U.S. will likely have about 67% of adults at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day. White House pandemic response coordinator Jeffrey D. Zients said at a Tuesday news conference that it could take “a few extra weeks” beyond July 4 to have 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated.

During Tuesday’s chat with the mayors, Fauci said he wants to see the U.S. surge far beyond 70 percent of citizens partially vaccinated as the summer rolls on.

“That (July 4 benchmark) is an aspirational goal,” Fauci said. “It’s not the endgame and it is not the goal line. The goal line is well beyond that. After we get into the summer, we want to crush this outbreak, which means we want to do even better than that. What this really means is that we are not quite done yet.

“Despite the fact that we are doing well, we don’t want to declare victory prematurely.”

In South Carolina, there have been 3.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered, per data from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. About 40.6 percent of South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated, and 47 percent of state residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In the Columbia area, DHEC stats show nearly 50% of Richland County residents have received at least one COVID vaccine shot. In neighboring Lexington County, nearly 49% have gotten at least one shot.

The state health department reported just 49 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with 155 coronavirus patients in state hospitals. At one point in January, there were more than 2,400 COVID-19 patients in South Carolina hospitals.

While the U.S. has gotten a better handle on COVID-19 recently, Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is concerned, particularly, about the Delta variant of COVID-19, which ripped through India and is now the dominant coronavirus train in the United Kingdom.

“The Delta variant is a variant of the virus that is highly transmissible, more so than the virus that we have been dealing with traditionally,” Fauci told the mayors. “It also can give you more serious disease. ... If you are vaccinated you are very, very well protected (against the variant). If you are not vaccinated, you really are at risk.”

Fauci said the Delta variant will “inevitably become more dominant” than other strains of COVID in the U.S.

As the national mayors group continues its push for vaccines, the city of Columbia also has launched its own campaign — called It’s YOUR shot, Columbia — to try to push vaccination rates. The city’s campaign is using TV and radio ads, social media platforms, billboards and inserts in residents’ water bills to push out the message that vaccine shots are free and readily available in the Midlands and across South Carolina.

Benjamin, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, told Fauci that, through the It’s YOUR Shot campaign, the city has been and will continue to blanket Columbia with a pro-vaccination message.

“We are just doing as much constant community outreach as we can, because we just can’t stop,” Benjamin said. “Here in our community right now, while we are seeing a significant deceleration (in new cases) compared to what we were some time ago, without much deeper vaccination penetration, we are going to start seeing an uptick.

“We are asking people to step up their games and realize that, yes, even in Columbia and South Carolina people are still dying from the virus.”

The Columbia mayor said the city is engaging with barber shops, beauty salons, fraternities and sororities to enhance vaccination efforts, and is even “wrapping” a fire truck, a garbage truck and an ice cream truck with messaging supporting vaccination.

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