Jill Biden was in Donald Trump country Tuesday to push COVID vaccines as rates fall in the South and the White House concedes it won't make its July 4th goal of having 70% of adult Americans partially vaccinated.
The first lady, wearing a $2,075 red zebra and lemon print Dolce & Gabbana dress with a $600 black Veronica Beard blazer, arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, to visit a vaccine clinic before heading to Nashville to tour a pop-up clinic at a distillery with singer-songwriter Brad Paisley, who will perform some songs.
Both states have a vaccination rate below the 50 per cent mark: 33% are fully vaccinated in Tennessee and 25% are fully vaccinated in Mississippi, according to John Hopkins data.
Neither state in the deeply red part of the country supported President Joe Biden in the presidential election.
But they are part of a rise in COVID infections in the Southern belt, particularly among 18-to-29-year-olds, with the new Delta variant said to be to blame.
The first lady visited a clinic at Jackson State University, a historically Black college in the Mississippi capital, together with the state's only Democratic U.S. House member, Bennie Thompson and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
Thompson said Biden was in the state to 'mitigate a lot of the rumors floating in the community as to why we can't accept the shot.'
Biden, a university professor, complimented the clinic, saying: 'I feel so much at home as a teacher.'
She couched her speech in spiritual terms, speaking of faith in the deeply religious state, while urging people to trust science and get the vaccine.
'I feel like a miracle's here,' Biden, a Catholic, said in her remarks. 'We're getting back to the things that we've lost for so long, like hugging the people.'
First lady Jill Biden talks to a vaccination recipient at a COVID-19 clinic at Jackson State University
First lady Jill Biden comforts a young boy as he gets a COVID-19 vaccination shot
Democratic U.S. House member Bennie Thompson gave Jill Biden a hug upon her arrival in Mississippi
'God bless you Mississippi. Go get vaccinated,' Jill Biden said
In her speech, she stressed the safety of the vaccine and urged people to get their shot.
'The vaccines feel like a miracle. And they were rolled out in record time, you know, and, and they were much better than we'd hoped.'
'The vaccines might feel like a miracle, but there's no faith required,' she continued. 'They are a result of decades of rigorous scientific research and discoveries, and they've been held to the very same safety standard as every single vaccine that we've had here in America.'
She reminded people the vaccine is safe, effective and free.
'God bless you Mississippi. Go get vaccinated,' she said at the end.
During her tour of the clinic, the first lady talked with young people waiting to receive either the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Wearing a black face mask, she held the hand of a young boy who was afraid of needles.
'Thank you everybody for coming and doing this. We're really working hard to get people vaccinated,' she told them.
She then asked each of them to go home and call a friend and urge the friend to get vaccinated.
Mississippi first lady Elee Reeves, the wife of the Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, greeted Biden upon her arrival and joined her on the tour. Reeves, like Biden, is an English teacher.
Thompson gave Biden a hug on the tarmac upon her arrival.
Jill Biden poses for a selfie during a tour of a COVID vaccine clinic at Jackson State University
Jill Biden boards Executive One Foxtrot on her way from Mississippi to Tennessee
Jill Biden waves upon her arrival in Jacksonville, Mississippi
Jill Biden comforted nervous patients ahead of their shots
The first lady's trip is part of an administration wide effort to boost vaccination rates. She'll visit Kissimmee and Tampa, Florida, on Thursday, where the Tampa Bay Lighting hockey team will join her.
As part of that vaccination push, Floridians are invited to register to receive vaccinations, take shots to the net from the ice, score photos with ThunderBug and the Zamboni, as well as receive Lightning swag along with registering to win hockey tickets.
Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a vaccination tour last week, making two Southern stops - in Greenville, South Carolina, and Atlanta.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will be in Illinois on Wednesday.
And President Biden will visit a vaccination clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Thursday.
The push comes after Biden's administration conceded Tuesday that it will fall short of its goal of having partially vaccinated 70 per cent of adult Americans by July 4th - but officials vowed they would 'crush' COVID-19 and said they have incentives in the work to raise the vaccination rate.
Officials blamed the missed goal - of having one shot in the arm of 70% of adult Americans - because of the slow vaccination rate among 18-to-26-year-olds.
'The country has more work to do, particularly with 18-to-26 year-olds. The reality is many younger Americans have felt like COVID-19 is not something that impacts them, and they've been less eager to get the shot,' Jeffrey Zients, the head of the White House COVID response team, said at a press briefing.
'It'll take a few extra weeks to get to 70% of all adults with at least one shot with the 18-to-26-year-olds factored in,' he added.
He also conceded the White House would fall short on Biden's goal to have 150 million Americans fully vaccinated by Independence Day, coming in a few weeks late.
'We will hit 160 million Americans fully vaccinated no later than mid July,' he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said incentives remain in the works to get young people to vaccination clinics, including more public appearances by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the star of the pandemic.
'It's not just Dr. Fauci on TikTok but that is happening,' she said at her press briefing on Tuesday. 'Dr. Fauci has done several Q&As with TikTok and Instagram influencers to answer questions to meet people where they are, including young people, give them information they need.'
She pointed out the administration is working with the business sector on give-aways to get more shots in arms.
'Microsoft is giving away Xboxes at Boys and Girls Clubs, the College Challenge is rallying university students across the country, Walgreens is giving out $25 to anyone who gets vaccinated there before July 4th,' she said.
And she called the original goal 'bold' and 'ambitious.'
'There's nothing ever magical through science about 70%. 70% was a bold ambitious goal we set to continue to drive to get more people vaccinated across the country,' she said.
Fauci, meanwhile, vowed the US would crush the coronavirus.
'No one should think that when we reach the 70% across the country that we're done. We are not done until we completely crushed this outbreak,' he said.
He did not offer a definition of what 'crushing' the virus meant.
'We're gonna continue to vaccinate millions and millions more Americans across the coming months,' Fauci said.
Jeffrey Zients, the head of the White House COVID response team, announced the Biden administration would not hit its goal to have partially vaccinated 70% of adult Americans, blaming low vaccine rate among 18-to-26-year-olds
Dr. Anthony Fauci vowed the country would 'crush' the coronavirus
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said incentives remain in the works to get young people to vaccination clinics
Administration officials kept a positive spin atop the news of their failure to reach Biden's goals for Independence Day.
'We have succeeded beyond our highest expectations,' Zients argued.
He pointed out that the White House has met Biden's goal of getting at least one shot in the arm of adults for Americans aged 30 and older. He added that goal would be met for adults 27 and older by the time the July 4th weekend passed.
He also noted that 16 states and Washington DC have hit the 70% rate for all adults.
And he emphasized: 'We are gonna have a Fourth of July celebration which is beyond everyone's highest expectations.'
Fauci also noted there would be no 'surge' of COVID infections despite the White House not meeting its goals.
'There will be local, type of regional outbreaks,' Fauci warned, saying it was 'totally and completely avoidable by getting vaccinated.'
Biden set his original July 4th goals on May 4th.
For the administration, it's the first major benchmark it will miss. Biden has routinely bragged about hitting his goals - including 100 million shots in the first 100 days and reaching 300 million shots in 150 days. Critics called those early goals easily reached.