WATCH: White House vaccination coordinator discusses plans to get vaccination numbers up in Kansas

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 9:49 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - President Joe Biden this week said his goal is to have 70 percent of adult Americans with at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot and 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4. This comes as the number of adults getting vaccinated continues to drop.

On Tuesday, Eyewitness News spoke with the president’s COVID-19 vaccine coordinator, Dr. Bechara Choucair, to see how he plans to get vaccination numbers up in Kansas.

Michael Schwanke: Dr. Choucair, thank you so much for being with us today as we talk about vaccinations. And just before this interview I mentioned, there are parts of Kansas, especially that are pretty hesitant, right now to get this COVID vaccine. Is that your next goal to try to reach that next group of people?

Dr. Choucair: Well, let me start Michael by saying that there are still tens of millions of people in this country who are eager to get vaccinated, and we have to make sure that we’re making it as easy, as convenient for people to get vaccinated. Now at the same time, we know that there are people who still have questions and those are legitimate questions, and we’d want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to be able to address those questions, so folks can feel more and more comfortable with the vaccine once they know the fact and then hopefully they’ll be ready to get vaccinated.

Michael Schwanke: To get some of those questions answered, are you leaning on family physicians to talk to some folks who may have lingering questions or are a little bit hesitant, still?

Dr. Choucair: The role that doctors play is so important here. We know from surveys we know from focus groups that doctors are the single most trusted sources and messengers when it comes to the information about the COVID vaccine. So we’d want to make sure that doctors are armed with the, with the ability to have these one on one conversations, we know that about 90% or so of doctors have already gotten vaccinated or in the process of getting vaccinated, and we want to make sure that people who still have questions or still have doubts have the opportunity, one, to ask those questions to their doctors, and also hopefully be able to get vaccinated at their doctor’s offices to make it more convenient, easier for people to get vaccinated.

Michael Schwanke: Just today, Doctor, President Biden saying his goal is to have 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4th... How do you attain that goal?

Dr. Choucair: Well, this is an ambitious ambitious goal, and you know that 70% of adults in this country to have had that last one shot like July, well, 160 million people fully vaccinated, to achieve that goal is going to require a lot of efforts and that’s why the President outlined a few strategies today including, you know, making more walk-up, no appointments needed, ability to get vaccinated, he’s asking FEMA to think about smaller vaccination sites more mobile clinics, we’re making tons of resources available to communities to be able to help build vaccine confidence. And we’re also focusing on rural communities because it’s really important that we’re able to engage rural communities even further In this next phase of the campaign.

Michael Schwanke: How are you going to reach those rural communities in here in Kansas. Most of those rural communities, lean Republican, Republicans in every poll you see are a little more hesitant in general to get the vaccine. So how are you going to reach that that group?

Dr. Choucair: Well, let me start by saying it’s about, really, access to the vaccine and building vaccine confidence, so first of all on access for a while we’ve been supporting community health centers across the country to have access to the vaccine, almost a third of these community health centers that have participated in the program more in rural communities, so the more we make access to the vaccine easier on rural communities, the more likely people are going to get vaccinated. And today, the President announced that we’re going to be also working now on top of the community health centers, working with rural health clinics across the country to make vaccines available to them. We’re also going to make more and more of the mobile clinics available and pop up sites available in rural communities and build on the infrastructure that FEMA and states and local governments have done over the last few months on vaccination. So access continues to be an important part of the strategy, Michael.

Dr. Choucair: The second part that’s equally as important as making sure that we continue to build vaccine confidence and I do want to start by saying what we know from surveys is that the majority of people in rural America is enthusiastic about getting vaccinated, and we’ve seen more and more people in rural America getting vaccinated, but we also still know that there are folks who still have questions legitimate questions. That’s why in the announcement today we’re making available resources to community based organizations to be able to do on the ground work to support people and getting vaccinated. We’re making $100 million available to about 4600 rural clinics across the country to really build vaccine confidence in rural communities, and as a result of the American rescue plan we’re making $860 million available to rural hospitals rural clinic, to be able to pass, and treats and continue to respond to this pandemic and a more and more effective way and not all of this is going to be needed to help us get more and more people in rural America vaccinated.

Michael Schwanke: Do you think part of the solution, too, is showing people the reward of getting vaccinated and that being that by this summer we get to that sense of normalcy?

Dr. Choucair: Well this is exactly what the President has said you know we want to do all this works, if we’re successful in making progress towards the 70% goal, we will have taken a serious step toward a return to normal by Fourth of July, and that’s really important. I’m not saying that 70% of adults getting the first at least one dose would mean the end of COVID-19, but that means a serious, serious step in getting us back to normal. It means cheap declines in new cases, new hospitalizations, new deaths and all of this is really important. I don’t know about you, Michael, but we’re all ready to go back to normal as soon as we can.

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