WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday his administration plans to launch a campaign to educate Americans about coronavirus vaccines in anticipation of a period later this year where supply may outstrip demand because of vaccine hesitancy.
“We’re going to launch a massive campaign educating people about vaccines, that they are safe and effective,” Biden said. “We’re going to bring together leaders of all segments of our society to educate and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated.”
Biden, a Democrat, has made getting hundreds of millions of Americans vaccinated a top priority of his presidency as he seeks to get a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States under control.
While demand for vaccines at the moment is high, officials worry that concerns about the vaccines, particularly among minority communities, will blunt the push to get the population inoculated in the coming months.
“The worst thing we can do now is let our guard down,” Biden said, urging Americans to wash their hands, practice social-distancing and wear masks.
Biden acknowledged the reasons some communities were fearful of getting vaccinated, and said there were predictions that in April or May the long lines for vaccines would dwindle.
“We all know there’s a history in this country … of subjecting certain communities to terrible medical and scientific abuse. But if there is one message that needs to cut through it’s this: the vaccines are safe and effective,” he said.
Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, played down the severity of the pandemic in its early stages, generally refused to wear a mask, and avoided talking about grim milestones of coronavirus deaths that he had predicted would not occur.
Biden has offered a different approach. On Monday, he led the country in a moment of silence to commemorate the deaths of more than half a million people in the United States from COVID-19, and his remarks on Thursday were delivered at an event to highlight 50 million vaccine shots administered nationwide.
The White House COVID team has held meetings with state and local health officials, nonprofit groups, companies and unions as part of its pandemic efforts.
“It is pretty clear that they’re looking for trusted voices at a local level,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist and professor at the Yale School of Public Health. “Who do you listen to when you make decisions? It’s the people closest to you.”
(Additional reporting by Heather Timmons and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Berkrot)