White House Official Urges Community Leaders to Visit Homes, Encourage COVID Vaccinations

A White House official said Thursday that he is urging community leaders to go door-to-door and encourage residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine after Missouri Governor Mike Parson said he doesn't want government officials doing so in his state.

Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the best people to encourage residents to receive the vaccine are "local trusted messengers" rather than federal officials. These include doctors, faith leaders and community leaders.

"So I would say for those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of trusted messenger work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, the community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, to save lives and help to end this pandemic," Zients said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Vaccines Missouri
A White House official has urged local community leaders to go door-to-door encouraging residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Above, a Missouri National Guard sergeant administers a vaccine to a resident of a senior living facility in St. Louis on February 11. Michael Thomas/Getty Images

Missouri asked for help last week from nearly formed federal "surge response" teams as it combats an influx of cases that public health officials are blaming on fast-spreading delta variant and deep-seated concerns about the vaccine. After one official noted the effort that could include door-to-door promotion of the vaccine, Parson tweeted: "I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!"

Parson has urged people to get vaccinated while also declining to enact restrictions to control the virus' spread, instead asking residents to take personal responsibility. Missouri—which leads the nation with the most new COVID-19 cases per capita over the past two weeks—has never had a mask mandate. Parson signed a law last month placing limits on public health restrictions and barring governments from requiring proof of vaccination to use public facilities and transportation.

Over the weekend, the Republican governor tweeted a picture of himself at a fireworks celebration in the tourist town of Branson, a large crowd behind him. Branson is about 40 miles south of Springfield, where one hospital was so overwhelmed with patients that it temporarily ran out of ventilators and took to social media to beg for help from respiratory therapists.

Just 29.5 percent of residents in the county where Branson is located have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, state data shows. That is below the state rate of 45 percent and the national rate of 55.1 percent but not unlike several other southwest Missouri communities. Some have vaccination rates in the teens and 20s.

Vaccine and mask resistance runs deep in the area: Branson's mayor was elected to office this spring after running on a platform that called for doing away with masks.

"I think what Missouri shows us, unfortunately, is that it's the unimmunized who are ending up in the hospital," said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "And that makes it in some ways even more of a challenge for health care workers because these are preventable hospitalizations and preventable deaths."

Missouri Gov.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson says he does not want government officials going "door-to-door" in his state to encourage citizens to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Above, Parson listens to a question during a press conference on May 29, 2019. Jacob Moscovitch/Getty Images