The way some Republican lawmakers tell it, the federal government is coming door-to-door to create a registry of the unvaccinated and force people to receive one of the Covid-19 vaccines.
On July 6, President Joe Biden announced five areas his administration would focus on to get Americans vaccinated, including community outreach efforts, signaling a shift away from mass vaccination sites and toward a more localized strategy.
“Now we need to go to community by community,” Biden said, “neighborhood by neighborhood, and oftentimes, door to door – literally knocking on doors – to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus.”
Ignoring the specifics of Biden’s actual plan, some Republicans latched on to the President’s “door-to-door” quote to make a variety of misleading comparisons.
Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert tweeted that Biden had “deployed his Needle Nazis” to her district, while Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan implied that Biden’s proposed community outreach was merely a precursor for more government oversight, tweeting, “The Biden Administration wants to knock on your door to see if you’re vaccinated. What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?”
While the administration has worked to clarify Biden’s remarks in the wake of these criticisms, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra caused more confusion during an interview with CNN on July 8, when he responded to criticism of Biden’s community outreach plan, saying it was the government’s business to know who hasn’t been vaccinated and that knocking on doors is not illegal.
Despite Becerra tweeting that his remarks had been taken “wildly out of context” and clarification from the White House, Republican lawmakers have continued to push misleading narratives about the vaccine community outreach efforts.
Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina suggested on Friday, during an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference’s summer gathering in Texas, that Biden may use the strategy to later take away people’s guns and Bibles.
“And now they’re starting to talk about going door-to-door to be able to take vaccines to the people,” Cawthorn said. “Think about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing. And then think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door-to-door to take your guns, they could then go door-to-door to take your Bibles.”
Facts First: These criticisms all amount to misleading fearmongering that ignore what the administration’s plan actually does, which is to provide information on the vaccine and its accessibility through local leaders and organizations.
The Biden administration has, since its very start, outlined this community education effort through local leaders and organizations.
In January the administration released a National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, which outlined that “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide toolkits for local leaders and state and local organizations, empowering Americans to have one-on-one conversations with friends, family members, neighbors, and members of their communities.”
In teeing up Biden’s July 6 speech, White House press secretary Jen Psaki outlined that the President would discuss five areas the administration would focus on to increase vaccination in the US. The first of these, Psaki said, would be “targeted, community-by-community, door-to-door outreach to get remaining Americans vaccinated by ensuring they have the information they need on how both safe and accessible the vaccine is.”
After many Republicans attacked Biden’s “door-to-door” quote, Psaki was asked about the criticism during a July 8 press briefing.
“(L)et me first say that this has been ongoing since April, and the best people to talk about vaccinations are local, trusted messengers: doctors, faith leaders, community leaders,” Psaki told reporters.
“They are not members of the government,” she continued. “They are not federal government employees. They are volunteers. They are clergy. They are trusted voices in communities who are playing this role and door knocking.”
And in a separate briefing on July 8, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients emphasized that the individuals going door to door would be “trusted messengers,” specifically “these very doctors, faith leaders, and community leaders that people look to for this type of advice.”
Confusion from the administration
More confusion was added around Biden’s plan by Becerra during an interview with CNN on July 8.
Becerra was asked about the criticism Biden had received and said it was “absolutely the government’s business” to know who has been vaccinated and added that “knocking on a door has never been against the law.”
Republican Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina criticized these comments, tweeting that “Becerra and Biden have you on a list and are going door-to-door. This is absurd, even by Dem COVID power trip standards.”
That same day, Becerra tweeted out a correction of sorts, saying that his comments were taken out of context and that the “government has no database tracking who is vaccinated. We’re encouraging people to step up to protect themselves, others by getting vaccinated.”
During her press briefing that day, Psaki also said that “the federal government does not have a database of who’s been vaccinated. That is not our role.”