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Fauci at NASCAR? White House looks to appeal to vaccine-hesitant conservatives and evangelicals

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent
·4 min read
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WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that the Biden administration was looking for ways to conduct outreach to “white conservative communities” where coronavirus vaccine hesitancy runs high. Such outreach, Psaki said, could include partnerships with NASCAR, the car racing franchise, and CMT, the country music television station.

“We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities,” Psaki said during a briefing with members of the press. She noted that cast members from “Deadliest Catch,” a reality television show about deep-sea fishing, had recently participated in a public service announcement about mask wearing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently made $3 billion available to community groups and health organizations around the country to increase “acceptance” and “uptake” of vaccines, a recognition that complex factors have led to low vaccination rates in parts of the country.

The goal, Psaki said, was to “meet people where they are.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House
White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a press briefing on Monday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Initially, there had been concerns about vaccine hesitancy among communities of color, particularly Black Americans, who may be mistrustful of a medical establishment that has a long history of institutional racism and neglect. But efforts to gain trust from Black communities appear to have been successful, even as disparities in who is actually being vaccinated persist.

According to recent findings from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 65 percent of people who’ve had at least one vaccine dose were white, while only 8 percent were Black (many people do not report their race when receiving a vaccination, making these findings incomplete).

Nearly half of white evangelicals have said they do not want the coronavirus vaccine, and about half of Republican men feel the same way. That presents the Biden administration with an acute challenge, since conservative whites tended to support President Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election and have remained suspicious of President Biden.

Trump received the coronavirus vaccine sometime in January, although he did not do so publicly. He was the only living former president to not participate in a public service announcement encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Last month, however, he told Fox News that his supporters should get inoculated against the coronavirus. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly,” the former president said. “But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also. But it’s a great vaccine. It’s a safe vaccine and it’s something that works.”

President Joe Biden talks to a person receiving a COVID-19 vaccine
President Biden talks to a person receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Alexandria, Va., on April 6. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The White House has looked for other ways to influence white conservatives. “We won’t always be the best messengers,” Psaki acknowledged on Monday. The challenge will be to find messengers willing to work with the Biden administration who are at the same time trusted by conservatives.

The White House did not answer a subsequent Yahoo News email query regarding potential partnerships with NASCAR or CMT, both of which are popular with conservatives.

Last summer, the Trump administration tried to enlist celebrities to tout its coronavirus response but had trouble finding willing participants. It eventually settled on the actor Dennis Quaid and other, more obscure stars before scrapping the plan amid questions of impropriety.

The Biden administration has deployed National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, who is outspoken about his own Christian faith. Last month he appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network to argue in favor of vaccination.

“We humans, as God’s children, have been given the tools of science to come up with our own way, to work through God’s grace, to provide an opportunity to relieve pain and suffering. I think that’s what vaccines are and have been all along,” Collins said in his CBN appearance.

Some evangelical leaders, such as the missionary Franklin Graham, have also encouraged Christian holdouts to get vaccinated.

“Jesus does tell the story of a man that was beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of a road, and religious leaders walked past him and did not have compassion, they didn’t get involved. But a Samaritan had compassion,” Graham told CBS News earlier this month.

“And he immediately bandaged — he put oil and wine on his wounds and took him to an inn, and paid to have him cared for. Now, the oil and wine were the medicines of that day. ... The vaccine is, to me, I believe, is saving life, and that’s what Jesus Christ would want us to do, to help save life. It’s just a tool to help save life.”

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