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Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, attends South Side COVID-19 vaccine rally

The country’s second gentleman stopped at a local barbershop and health clinic Wednesday as part of a national movement to bring vaccinations to communities hit hardest by COVID-19.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke at Esperanza Health Clinic Wednesday, commending them for their success with vaccines in the community.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff spoke at Esperanza Health Clinic Wednesday, commending them for their success with vaccines in the community.
Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, visited a South Side barbershop in Englewood and a health center a few blocks away on Wednesday as part of the Biden White House drive to persuade more people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve been traveling all over the country delivering this message of hope,” said Emhoff. “But it’s also a message that we’re not there yet. A lot of people have already gotten their vaccination, but we need to do better.”

The White House conceded this week that despite efforts, it will not reach its initial goal of 70% of all adults partially vaccinated by July 4.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority groups that are socially and economically disadvantaged, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of the 150.4 million Americans fully vaccinated, Black Americans make up only 8.8% of that number and Hispanic/Latinos make up 14.2%.

Englewood has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the city, according to Chicago Department of Public Health.

Wednesday’s event at It’s Official Barbershop, located at 1256 W 63rd St., was also part of Biden’s “Shots at the Shop,” an initiative to engage Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons to support local vaccine education and outreach efforts.

Channal Coleman, the shop’s owner and former frontline worker, told Emhoff, “Working in the nursing field, we hear all the time, ‘I don’t want to get vaccinated … it’s going to give me COVID.’”

Coleman said “Shots at the Shop” is a start in the right direction for encouraging Black communities to trust the vaccine.

“A lot of talk goes on in the barbershop,” said Coleman. “It’s a great meeting place for conversation. The beauty shops and barbershops will help get this started.”

She added that now it’s about educating hesitant customers, letting them know she trusts science enough that she’s been vaccinated and that historically vaccines have staved off viruses like the flu.

But she also believes there is still work that needs to be done, particularly making vaccination education, testing and shots more convenient and accessible.

Emhoff was accompanied by Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy advisor for COVID-19 Equity.

Webb explained to those at It’s Official Barbershop that he used to live in Chicago and saw how barbershops “were so involved in public health initiatives.”

For Webb, the push for vaccinations on the community level was also personal.

“I remember the very first days of this pandemic in my hospital,” Webb said outside the Esperanza Health Clinic at 6057 S. Western Ave. “I remember the first day I walked onto the (COVID-19) unit and saw the list of those who were admitted with COVID-19 ... and they were all Black and Brown. They were all from communities like mine, who looked like family members of mine.”

Rally attendees at the clinic praised the Biden administration’s local efforts to promote vaccinations.

“It was amazing,” said Martiza Avila, a contact tracer with Southwest Organizing Project, one of Esperanza Health’s partners. “It’s nice to know that they’re reaching out to these communities.”

For Avila’s fellow contract tracer, Olivia Torres, seeing Emhoff and Webb indicated that the White House was invested in helping minority communities overcome the tolls of the pandemic.

“They shared a message about how important this is, especially for families,” said Torres.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.