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Remarks by the Vice President on Equity and Our Heathcare Workforce

November 22, 2021

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Before I begin with the topic of –- of this discussion, I want to say a word about the tragedy that occurred last night in Wisconsin.

The President and I are monitoring the situation closely. We do not yet have all the details, but we do know that there are five families who have lost loved ones, we know that at least 40 people have been injured, and we know that that entire community is grieving.

The horrific act of violence that occurred last night is heartbreaking. To those families who lost a loved one, to the first responders, to the community: Please know that we are praying for you and that we stand with you.

With that, I want to also thank Dr. Luis Padilla for your kind introduction and for the commitment that you have displayed throughout your career to this very important work.

And, of course, it is always an honor to join Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Dr. Murthy, as I hope I tell you often enough, we are so thankful for your skill, for your determination, and for your commitment. You have worked tirelessly in the fight against COVID-19. And on behalf of our nation, I want to thank you, Vivek.

So, it has been nearly two years since this -- since the pandemic began. In so many ways, our nation has been tested. Our nation's resilience has been tested and so has our persistence.

Our nation's ingenuity has been tested and so has our commitment to equity.

So, I will focus today on our collective commitment to equity.

Here is the truth: COVID-19 did not invent health disparities. Just ask any healthcare professional and she will tell you: Health disparities existed long before this virus reached our shores. Health disparities stem from broader systemic inequities.

What COVID-19 has done is expose these disparities and it has exasperated these disparities.

When President Joe Biden and I took office, we knew that Black communities, brown communities, Native communities, rural communities were hardest hit by COVID-19.

So, when we went to work, we did it with haste to get our nation -- and everyone in our nation -- vaccinated. And we pushed ourselves, along the way, to do everything we could to reach the hardest-hit communities.

We set up mass vaccination sites. We sent out mobile vaccination units to communities that were the hardest hit and often found it very difficult to get to the centers of activity. Communities with the highest risk were a priority. We got vaccines directly to hundreds of community health centers.

In fact, three in four vaccine doses that have been administered at community health centers have been administered to people of color.

And we called on our entire nation: Join us in our effort to close the gaps in vaccination rates as what we must do to close these gaps, period.

So, employers offered paid time off. Childcare providers offered drop-in services. Public transit agencies offered free rides to vaccination sites. Churches and barbershops opened their doors to become vaccination sites.

And as a result of all of that work, today, as Dr. Murthy and Dr. Padilla have discussed -- as a result of all that work, today we have effectively closed the gap in vaccination rates among Black and brown adults.

Now, to be sure, there is still work to do to end this pandemic. And right now, we are especially focused on getting our children over the age of five vaccinated.

What we have done shows us what is possible when we focus on equity.

Over the last 10 months, our COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force has been collecting information in order to provide recommendations that will continue to guide our health equity work.

This task force is something -- as has been mentioned -- that I envisioned when I served in the United States Senate, and its creation was one of the first actions that our administration took.

The President and I asked members of our task force to advise us not just on COVID-19 disparities, but on how we get at the root of all the disparities in the healthcare system that we face.

And earlier this month, in their final report, the task force laid out clear priorities for our administration and for our nation.

Here is but one of those priorities: Our nation must invest in a healthcare workforce that looks like America and provide access to equitable healthcare for all Americans.

So, today, I am proud to announce, thanks to our American Rescue Plan, we will invest $1.5 billion to help us do just that. With these funds, we will invest in our National Health Service Corps and our Nurse Corps. Together, these healthcare professionals serve more than 23 million patients in our nation.

We will also invest in our substance use disorder treatment and recovery program. Our administration's goal here is to address the urgent shortage of doctors, nurses, and behavioral health providers in both urban and rural areas.

Through scholarships and loan repayment, we will support over 22,000 providers -- 22,000 providers -- a record number of skilled professionals committed to serving in underserved communities. And these professionals will look like America and be better prepared to provide equitable care to America.

In addition, in the days ahead, it is our hope and intention and expectation that Congress will build on this work by passing our Build Back Better Act.

That legislation will build on our priority to address health disparities. It will reduce healthcare premiums for 9 million Americans and close the Medicaid coverage gap. It will also make an historic investment in maternal health in order to address the tragedy of Black maternal mortality in America.

Again, there is more work to be done, but I believe we are headed in the right direction.

So, I will end, for now, with this: Throughout this pandemic, we have indeed been tested. And in so many ways, in the face of these challenges, our nation has demonstrated who we are as a nation.

Even in difficult times -- especially in difficult times -- we remain undaunted. We remain undeterred. We remain determined to build a better future.

We have an opportunity now to advance health equity. It is up to all of us to seize on that opportunity.

Thank you, all. May God bless you. And may God bless America. Thank you.

END 3:46 P.M. EST

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President on Equity and Our Heathcare Workforce Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/353538

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