The race is on to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, and now Columbia is part of a national mayoral competition to get shots in arms.
Columbia is one of 50 cities across America that is part of the Mayors Challenge, a competition to see which city can grow its vaccination rate the most by July 4. The contest, which is happening in conjunction with the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors, was announced last week by the Biden Administration. President Joe Biden has set a goal of having 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
The vaccine push from the national mayors group comes as the city of Columbia also has launched its own campaign — called It’s YOUR shot, Columbia — to try to bump vaccination rates upward. The city’s campaign is using TV and radio ads, social media platforms, billboards and inserts in residents’ water bills to push out the message that vaccine shots are free and readily available in the Midlands and across South Carolina.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he sees the city’s vaccine campaign and the national Mayors Challenge as being connected, in a sense.
“The goal is to get more shots in arms,” Benjamin told The State. “We are trying to aggressively step up efforts to get people vaccinated however we can. Seventy percent (of people at least partially vaccinated) by July 4 is ambitious for the country, and certainly ambitious for our metropolitan area, but these are the types of things you need to be ambitious about. In baseball terminology, you just keep swinging for the fences.”
Across South Carolina, there have been 3.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered. According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, 45.8% of South Carolinians have received at least one dose.
Looking at the Columbia area, nearly 48 percent of Richland County residents have received at least one vaccine shot, per DHEC records. In neighboring Lexington County, 47 percent of residents have gotten at least one shot.
The White House is in the midst of a month-long sprint to get the nation toward the president’s goal of 70% of people at least partially vaccinated by Independence Day, though, as noted in reports from the Associated Press and others, that particular goal seems daunting. The percentage currently is about 64%.
Still, the administration is pushing. Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to Greenville on Monday as part of a tour across the country in which she will make stops at vaccination clinics, churches, university campuses and underserved communities where vaccine hesitancy remains high
Benjamin said he thinks confidence in the COVID vaccines is continuing to grow, and that some people just need a small nudge toward making the decision to get a shot.
“The vaccine has proven to be so efficient that, as more people want to transition back to normal, you are starting to see more of that confidence in the vaccine,” the third-term mayor said. “Which will lead to some people, who may not have immediately taken to it earlier this year, seriously considering it. I have had a number of conversations with individuals who see that those of us who are several months into the vaccine are healthy, strong and immune.”
The city and DHEC will be doing a COVID vaccine clinic from 9 a.m. to noon Monday in Five Points. There will be walk-up vaccines at the Five Points fountain, and drive-thru shots offered at 2221 Devine St. No appointments are required.