President Joe Biden gave his very first town hall as President last night (Feb. 17) on CNN, and unlike his predecessor, connecting with voters on an empathetic level is his biggest draw. However, like every person in power, he made a pretty big faux paus when addressing the vaccine disparity among Black and Latino communities.
The town hall took place in Milwaukee, and a local doctor asked why out of all the vaccines administered, only 3% of Black people and 5% of Latinos had received the vaccine, despite being two of the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
Biden’s response was two parts. First, after he reminded the doctor of why the Black and Latino communities are distrusting of vaccines, being that Black people were used as “guinea pigs and other experiments,” for far too long in our history. Biden also addressed the lack of walk up vaccine centers for marginalized communities who do not have access to cars. He plans on sending community health centers, which “take care of the toughest of the toughest neighborhoods in terms of illness,” a million vaccine doses a week (though that claim was challenged by fact checkers). He also addressed his administration’s plans to send mobile units to neighborhoods most impacted.
But the next part is where he fumbled.
“Not everybody in the community–in the Hispanic and the African American community, particularly in rural areas that are distant and/or inner-city districts–know how to use–know how to get online to determine how to get in line for that COVID vaccination at the Walgreens or at the particular store.”
The inference that Black and Latino communities don’t know how to get online, well, it’s obviously incorrect. In fact, Latinos are the leaders when it comes to new tech usage, embracing social media, smartphones, and apps during the pandemic more than ever before.
What Biden was referring to is the many reports older generations of Latinos and Black folks being unable to schedule vaccine appointments due to systemic barriers like access to Spanish language sites and information, lack of internet services in more economically challenged and/or rural areas, and lack of a vaccine site close enough.
In a follow up response, he clarified a bit further. “It’s all about trying to more rationalize in detail so ordinary people, like me, can understand,” Biden stated. “I mean that sincerely. I mean, you know, my grandchildren can use that online–you know, make me look like I’m in, you know, the seventh century.”
You can read the town hall transcript here.