First lady Jill Biden visited Mississippi and Tennessee Tuesday, which have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, to talk vaccine safety and effectiveness and to promote the shot she called "a miracle."
Biden's visit to Jackson was one leg of the Biden administration's nationwide tour to encourage the millions of Americans who still haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19 to do so.
Mississippi's vaccination rate of 30% is the lowest among the states and 15% below the national average.
Joined by Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Biden toured a vaccination site at Jackson State University. Jackson State University — one of the largest HBCUs in the country — has hosted multiple vaccination events specifically aimed at increasing inoculation rates among Black Mississippians.
Thompson said Biden had come to Mississippi to help "mitigate a lot of the rumors floating in the community as to why we can’t accept the shot."
“Thank you everybody for coming and doing this. We're really working hard to get people vaccinated," Biden told a handful of Mississippians waiting to receive a dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine inside the school's engineering building.
Biden held the hand of 13-year-old Christian Lyles of Byram, who said he was afraid of needles. "I am too," Biden told him.
The first lady moved on to the building's foyer to address a roomful of state and local officials. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, Biden said, adding that vaccinations have allowed masks to come off and people to gather more normally again.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of questions,” Biden said. “And as a teacher, as a mom, as a nana, I wanted to give people the best answers I could.”
Biden continued: “I’m here today to ask all of the people who can hear my voice, who can see my face, to get their shot. The vaccine is safe and it doesn’t hurt. I promise it doesn’t hurt.”
She concluded on a lyrical note, waxing poetic about a new summer of “barbecues to baseball games to boardwalks full of laughing children.”
“The fresh air smells sweeter without our masks. The time with our loved ones feels more precious now that we know it could be lost. The bonds of our community feel stronger because we carried each other through the darkest times. That’s what we do. It’s who we are: people who take care of our neighbors and friends … Now, we must rise once more – each of us doing our part to protect ourselves and everyone around us. Do your part. Choose to get your shot. And we’ll be able celebrate this summer the way it should be: safe and together.”
Thompson said Tuesday he hopes Biden's visit will bring an uptick in the state's vaccination rate, which has been in decline for several weeks.
“As we all know, we have a real poor vaccination rate (in Mississippi),” Thompson said. “Hopefully, the first lady’s visit can spark some interest in our citizens to get vaccinated.”
Following her Mississippi visit, Biden arrived in Nashville Tuesday and was welcomed by state politicians, city officials, country music superstar Brad Paisley and a boisterous crowd of vaccinated fans. But the event was missing what it needed most – people getting vaccinated.
The lack of recipients at the event illustrates the exact problem the first lady hopes to solve.
Only 41% of Tennesseans have received at least one dose of a vaccine so far, the sixth-lowest percentage of all U.S. states, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden stressed in her remarks Tennessee’s lagging vaccine rate. "This state still has a little bit of a way to go. Only three in 10 Tennesseans are vaccinated," she said.
The crowd booed. "Well, you’re booing yourselves!" she said.
During brief statements Tuesday, Biden said she could not comprehend the swirling distrust and misinformation about vaccines.
"You know what the vaccines mean for your family and your friends and your neighbors," Biden said. "You know they are saving lives. You know the vaccines are the only way to get back to the open mics and the music festivals and the concerts that make this town so very special."
During the pop-up vaccination clinic at the Ole Smokey Distillery, Biden was met by Paisley, who has advocated for vaccination and denounced the politicization of the pandemic.
Paisley toured the pop-up clinic at Biden’s side, then played a few songs.
When she handed the mike to Paisley after her remarks, he started with the opening lyrics of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” retooled to “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacc-iiiine…”
Contributing: Maria Puente; Adam Friedman, Nashville Tennessean
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: First lady Jill Biden urges Mississippians to get COVID-19 vaccine