President Joe Biden urged North Carolinians who haven’t been vaccinated yet to go get their shots, saying that vaccination is the best way to protect themselves from COVID-19 and ensure a return to life as normal.
Biden spoke Thursday afternoon at the Green Road Community Center in Northeast Raleigh, to a crowd of a few hundred people, most of whom were volunteers and front-line workers from local nonprofits that have been helping administer vaccines in the Triangle.
“I wanted to come to Raleigh to thank everyone in this room for everything you’re doing to get your community vaccinated,” Biden said. “It matters. You’re saving lives and that’s not hyperbole.
“There’s no reason to leave yourself vulnerable to this deadly virus for one day more,” he told people who aren’t vaccinated.
Before taking the stage, Biden was greeted by several prominent North Carolina public officials, including Attorney General Josh Stein, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen and House Minority Leader Robert Reives. The president also spoke with a group of nurses from WakeMed who have been vaccinating people throughout Raleigh since December.
Leading that group was Dr. Rasheeda Monroe, the medical director for primary care pediatrics at WakeMed. Also present was Carolyn Knaup, the senior vice president for strategic ventures and ambulatory operations at WakeMed, and a registered nurse for more than 30 years who administered the vaccine to Gov. Roy Cooper in March.
Knaup said in an interview before Biden’s arrival that the presidential visit is “the light at the end of a very long tunnel for health care providers.”
As Biden visited a vaccination site, spectators watched, including Maureen McFadden, 79, and Kathy Alman, 77, both of Raleigh. They drove to the community center to sit in beach chairs across from the Green Road Community Library.
“I’ve very excited that he’s in the White House number one, that he has surrounded himself with such competent people, that our country is running smoothing again after four years,” McFadden said. “And I think things are good.”
Both said they’re glad Biden came to North Carolina to encourage people to get vaccinated and encourage civic engagement.
“You get the people involved,” McFadden said. “People like Kathy and me, not only people our age, but young people are here and those people will hopefully talk to their legislators.”
Ive Jones, a Wake County resident and student at Princeton University, introduced the president. Jones said she was disappointed by the unusual start of her school year at Princeton but was more affected by the devastation the pandemic had on North Carolina.
She said she watched helplessly as COVID-19 cases and fatalities climbed in North Carolina.
“If the pandemic has reinforced anything, it is that health and life are not ensured to anyone, despite what we would like to believe,” Jones said. “To receive the COVID-19 vaccine is to honor the over 400 people hospitalized at this very moment. To receive this vaccine is to honor you, your community and to honor the gift of another day.”
Vaccine incentives in NC
Gov. Roy Cooper joined Biden Thursday and introduced him to the crowd, thanking God for the vaccine. In recent weeks, Cooper has extensively promoted vaccines and rolled out a number of financial incentives with the hope they will turn the state’s vaccination numbers around.
That includes $1 million cash jackpots that will go to four randomly selected North Carolinians who have been vaccinated, as well as four $125,000 college scholarships. North Carolina has also been offering more modest $25 Summer Cards at participating vaccination sites, for people who have gotten vaccinated or drove someone to go get their shot. The program was initially launched in just four counties but is being expanded to 36 counties this week.
“During this pandemic we used science and data to make the hard decisions and with our larger states, North Carolina is among the lowest in deaths and jobs per capita,” Cooper said. “That’s a good thing. That means we’ve done things right.”
Democrats, including Cooper, have heralded the Biden administration’s work to increase the supply of vaccines and public awareness about the importance of getting vaccinated.
“It’s undeniable that the President’s leadership has gotten the pandemic under control and played a huge role in helping get North Carolina back on track,” Bobbie Richardson, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said in a statement.
The number of daily vaccinations nationwide was steadily increasing when Biden took office on Jan. 20. At the time, the U.S. was reporting a seven-day average of roughly 900,000 new shots administered each day. In the first three months of the Biden administration, the seven-day average of daily vaccinations nearly tripled. The number of daily shots administered peaked on April 10 at approximately 4.6 million doses given in a single day.
Since mid-April, the rate of daily vaccinations has steadily fallen across the country and in North Carolina, where weekly vaccinations fell by nearly 83% between the weeks of April 5 and June 14.
Republican criticism of Biden
NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley called Biden’s visit “another example of his brand of performative politics.” Whatley and other Republicans slammed the Biden administration for not being on track to meet its target of partially vaccinating 70% of adults by July 4, which the White House acknowledged this week.
Whatley said Biden had taken credit for vaccines developed in record time under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development and procurement program, and criticized Biden for not acknowledging former President Donald Trump’s role in the effort.
Republicans also blasted Biden for remarks he made on the campaign trail in July 2020, when he questioned how the Trump administration would distribute the vaccines once they were ready for use, and if they would be “real” and “safe.”
“Perhaps had he not spent so much time playing politics, he might have reached his July 4th vaccination goal,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Alex Nolley said in an email.