Fauci spent the Juneteenth holiday Saturday knocking on doors with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in D.C.’s majority-Black Ward 8 — the poorest segment of the city and the area with the lowest coronavirus vaccination rate — to talk to residents about the virus’s disproportionately heavy impact on Black Americans and to encourage the residents to get vaccinated if they had not already.
Within a few blocks, the mayor and the public health leader saw firsthand the full spectrum of attitudes toward the vaccine in this community — from those who enthusiastically got the shots, to those lacking information about who should be vaccinated and why, to those adamantly opposed, citing conspiracy theories or misinformation.
“Have you gotten your shot?” Bowser asked Gertrude Harrison, 82, at one of the first houses that she and Fauci visited. “Uh-uh!” Harrison answered, shaking her head “no” emphatically. “You know it does other things!”
Harrison said she tries to avoid all shots.
Fauci tried a personal approach. “I don’t like needles either,” he said. “I didn’t even feel it. . . . You know what’s worse than the needle? Covid.”
“We don’t want covid to get ahold of you,” Bowser added. “We don’t want to see you in a hospital.”
By the end of the conversation, Bowser connected Harrison with Patrick Ashley, a leader in the city’s health department, and the mayor seemed optimistic that Ashley might be able to convince Harrison to get the shot. But a minute after the mayor left her home, Harrison said to a relative: “Oh no. I ain’t getting no shot.”
Across the street, Harrison’s young neighbor said she had not gotten the vaccine, either.
“Dr. Fauci can answer any questions you have,” Bowser said, and the young woman asked how many doses she would need. Hearing about the one-shot Johnson & Johnson option, she said she would prefer that.
Walking away, Bowser said to Fauci, “She’s going to get it today. I can tell.” A staff member from the mayor’s office stayed behind, volunteering to walk the woman around the corner to the clinic at Anacostia High School.
More than 70 percent of adults in the city overall now have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and the city’s vaccination campaign has shifted from trying to give out doses as rapidly as possible to targeting hard-to-reach people in neighborhoods that are lagging, sometimes by sending outreach workers door-to-door.
Bowser announced last week that residents who get their first dose at any of three clinics — Anacostia High School, Ron Brown High School and the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center — will receive $51 gift cards (representing D.C.’s drive to become the 51st state). Saturday’s entrants also were entered in a drawing to win American Airlines tickets. On Saturday, Bowser said the drawing will include many more prizes in the next month, including a Jeep, Metro cards preloaded with fares and $10,000 of grocery store credits.
Bowser predicted that “a few hundred” people will end up getting vaccinated at the three sites. “Your odds of winning are very, very good,” she told some residents as she visited their porches.
She and Fauci answered questions from people seeking more information. One vaccinated woman answered her door in a mask and asked Fauci what she should tell a relative who is reluctant to get a shot.
“We want to knock the virus out so you won’t have to wear a mask,” Fauci suggested she say.
Many asked whether their young children and grandchildren were eligible yet for shots. Another asked whether her vaccine would protect her and prevent her from spreading the virus to her unvaccinated young children if she attended an indoor conference at a hotel. (Fauci touted the efficacy of the vaccines, and Bowser suggested wearing a mask at the conference.)
Esther Brighthaupt said she worried that if she got the vaccine, she might become infectious and make her grandchildren sick. Fauci told her that she couldn’t infect others by getting the shot.
“You’re actually protecting your family by getting vaccinated. You want to do it today,” he said.
Brighthaupt’s daughter Natisha interjected, “I had thought it doesn’t cure it and it doesn’t stop you from getting it,” and Fauci spoke of the effectiveness of the shots at preventing illness.
Both women said they would consider getting the shot after the conversation.
But Tanya Crawford said she had no interest in the vaccine. When the mayor and her staff walked past, Crawford left the Juneteenth feast she was cooking in her kitchen to shout at them from her porch, which she had decorated with photographs of her parents and grandparents taken in D.C. more than half a century ago.
“She has no presence. We never see and hear from her,” Crawford called out as Bowser passed. “Now you want to come in the neighborhood, in the hood, and say we gotta get vaccinated?”
What she’d like to hear from Bowser about, she said, would be efforts to prevent Black residents from losing their houses, like her grandparents did in Ward 7, or steps to address gun violence.
Nate Ward scoffed when Fauci said at his door that 600,000 Americans had died of the virus. He cited a false theory that doctors declared people to have died of coronavirus to receive funding, which Bowser said was untrue.
Eventually, Bowser asked that if Ward wouldn’t get a vaccine, he would at least wear a mask and avoid crowds.
“Limit my activities? Limit my activities to what?” Ward said. A neighbor started live-streaming the exchange, interjecting comments approving of Ward’s stance. “That doesn’t make any sense, what you’re saying. People are not limiting their activities for the common flu. . . . Whatever this is, it’s going to pass.”
Ward, 54, looked darkly on Bowser’s Jeep and plane tickets raffle as well. “When you start talking about paying people to get vaccinated, incentivizing people to get vaccinated, there’s something else going on with that.”
The mayor and Fauci moved on to the next house, pausing for many a selfie, hoping that by the end of the day, the shouts of joy and recognition — “It’s Fauci!” — would translate into at least a few more shots in arms.