Although the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to decrease, the only way back to normal is with vaccinations, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said.

“This vaccination is really the way to get back to so much of what we miss,” Murthy said Wednesday in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The roundtable was held to provide tools for clubs throughout the country, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County, to help increase their local vaccination rates.

“We’re going to need your help going forward,” Murthy said. “Because the job’s not done yet.”

He said that throughout the country, Boys & Girls Clubs have proven to be valuable assets during the pandemic — be it in making sure kids were fed at the start of the pandemic, partnering with school districts to support online learning, or offering their facilities as vaccination sites.

Still, as schools prepare to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, increasing vaccination rates, particularly among children 12 and up, remains a priority, Murthy said.

“It raises the importance of getting more kids vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve got to move fast in making sure the majority of kids in our communities get vaccinated.”

One way to do that, he said, is to increase confidence in the vaccine and dispel misinformation. This is where Boys & Girls Clubs can step in, he said.

By utilizing the relationships the clubs have with their members and families, more people will be able to trust in the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, Murthy said.

“We do view ourselves as a trusted community partner,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of America CEO & President Jim Clark.

During the roundtable, directors of three Boys & Girls Clubs of America, including Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County Executive Director Ron McHenry, each asked a question relevant to their communities.

For McHenry, it was how to increase the vaccination rate for club members who may have family members who are undocumented.

While in some cases vaccine providers may ask to check identification in order to verify health insurance, people do not need to be U.S. citizens, have health insurance, or provide identification in order to receive the vaccine, Murthy said.

They also do not need to pay.

“The vaccine is free,” Murthy said. “That’s regardless of your immigration status, regardless of whether you have health insurance or not.”

Anyone who is asked to pay can make a complaint with the federal government, Murthy said.

To do so, they are asked to call 1-800-HHS-TIPS or 1-800-447-8477.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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