JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Vice President Kamala Harris visited Jacksonville on Monday as part of the Biden administration’s “Help is Here” tour of the nation promoting the $1.9 trillion relief package.
She visited the federally-run Gateway Mall vaccination site before stopping by a Northwest Jacksonville food distribution warehouse.
“I’m here to emphasize the importance of vaccinations and getting the vaccine,” Harris said as she got off Air Force Two at Jacksonville International Airport about 2 p.m. “You know, when it’s your turn, you got to get it. And regardless of what we’re talking about in terms of the various variants. One thing is for sure, if you get vaccinated when it’s your turn, you are much more likely to avoid contracting COVID Much less having severe symptoms are hospitalization or death.”
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Federal Emergency Management Agency regional lead Bob Spence all greeted Harris at the airport and accompanied her on a tour of the Gateway facility.
Harris also talked with reporters about what was on the agenda.
“I’m glad to be in Jacksonville,” Harris said. “We’re here talking with the mayor and the commissioner and congressman about the good work that is happening here on the ground, and they have expressed their appreciation for what we have been able to do with the ARP, the American Rescue Plan, getting more shots in arms, helping out folks. A lot of our conversation today is also going to be about food insecurity.”
Just after 2:30 p.m., Harris entered the tent at the Gateway site and was led over to a table where Navy troops were preparing the vaccine and tapping syringes to get any bubbles out. Her guide announced: “This is where the magic happens.”
“Thank you on behalf of the president and myself,” she told the people preparing the vaccine. “Tap away!”
Jennifer Chase was getting her second shot as Harris came to the Gateway site and talked to the people getting shots. Chase told News4Jax that she “just kind of timed it out” to be there when she thought Harris might be visiting the site.
“She was talking about how important it was to get vaccinated, which most people in there already knew or they wouldn’t be there. ... She was looking out for people, thanking people, and people were excited to see her,” Chase said. “That was the best thing ever -- amazing. Obviously, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
I thought this years highlight was being Teacher of the Year at my school, but then I got to meet @VP and Mayor Lenny Curry while getting my second vaccine. #vaccinateyall @DuvalSchools @aka1908 #sororitysisters pic.twitter.com/3v7YRDh1tR— S. Bradshaw (@SBradshaw1908) March 22, 2021
The Gateway site and two other federal satellite locations in Duval County can vaccinate more than 4,000 people a day, but, last week, the sites did not administer more than 17,000 available doses.
Strict criteria for the medically vulnerable and age limits are still preventing many from getting the vaccine. Harris’ visit to Jacksonville came on the same day Florida dropped its vaccine age requirement to 50 and older.
“I’m here to emphasize the importance of vaccinations and getting the vaccine,” Harris said. “One thing is for sure, if you get vaccinated when it’s your turn, you are much more likely to avoid contracting COVID, much less having severe symptoms or hospitalization or death.”
In sight of the motorcade near the FEMA site, a little girl holding up a hand-lettered, pink and purple sign that said “Girls can change the world.”
RELATED: Vice President Harris, local leaders highlight food insecurity at Jacksonville food bank
Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Harris arrived at the next stop, Feeding Northeast Florida’s food pantry and warehouse, for what was billed by the White House as a listening session. Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis was among those who attended.
“Families are hurting. One in nine Americans said they didn’t have enough food in February and early March,” Dennis said on The Morning Show ahead of the vice president’s visit. “I think in Northeast Florida, it’s much higher than that.”
Feeding Northeast Florida said the number of people it served during the pandemic has jumped 129%.
Fried told Harris that 40% of Black families and 39% of Hispanic families in the area are experiencing chronic hunger.
The vice president said: “The work that we did on the American Rescue Plan was designed with you mind.” She also told the group that she was concerned about the pandemic’s impact on children and “what will have an impact in terms of their ability to develop and to reach their God-given capacity.”
Harris, President Joe Biden and their top messengers are crisscrossing the nation to highlight the benefits of the plan, specifically focusing on aid for small businesses. The administration is promising that the spending will bring transformational change by halving child poverty, fueling record levels of hiring and pumping money to parents, schools and state and local governments.
Harris and husband Doug Emhoff reinforced the small business theme last week with stops in Colorado.
Biden’s administration estimates that 400,000 small businesses have closed because of the pandemic and millions more are barely surviving. His aid package includes a $28 billion grant program to support restaurants and drinking establishments. There are also $15 billion in flexible grants that can be allocated.
Biden will head to Ohio on Tuesday to continue to “Help is Here” tour.
Harris visited last visited Jacksonville in October for a socially-distanced rally at the University of North Florida in advance of the November election.