We may soon find out now that two major figures in the nascent Biden administration – the first lady and Fauci – joined top military officials Thursday at a virtual town hall to urge serving military, veterans and their families to get vaccinated.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his nurse wife, Hollyanne Milley, also joined the town hall, which was co-organized by the Red Cross and Blue Star Families, a leading military family support group.
The couple modeled good mask behavior, putting theirs on together, while Gen. Milley stressed that the vaccines "have been shown to be safe and effective."
"Protect yourself, your family and our community," he said.
The purpose of the event, the first of a series planned by the organizers, was to provide military families with up-to-date information about the two vaccines being distributed, to answer their questions, and to urge families to get the jabs.
As it turns out, military-connected families may be as uncertain as millions of non-military Americans about the vaccine rollout, judging from a forthcoming survey by Blue Star Families, which found that 53% of respondents do not plan to be vaccinated.
Biden, 69, who has made support for military families a key plank of her first-lady platform, spoke via video conference from the White House. She said the families of serving military "serve and sacrifice" in their own way even though they don't wear a uniform.
"Your questions matter and Dr. Fauci and his team are excited to answer them," Biden said. "This fight is a battle we can win but we need your help. Mask up, socially distance and get the vaccine when it's your turn. We can beat this together. Thank you for your questions and most of all, thank you for your service to the country."
Now that he's been freed from some of the restraints he operated under in the preceding Trump administration, Fauci, 80, is turning up – virtually – anywhere he can to talk up the urgency of reining in the coronavirus pandemic and about the safety and efficacy of being vaccinated, along with promoting mask wearing and staying socially distanced outside.
Echoing Biden, Fauci said he would appear to answer questions "at any time you ask me because of my extraordinary respect for Blue Star Families." Fauci emphasized we are living "through a truly historic and devastating pandemic," with 20 million infected and more than 450,000 deaths so far in the United States alone.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel due to the extraordinary success in the vaccine program," Fauci said, adding that thus far more than 32 million injections have been administered in the U.S.
He answered questions fielded by Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, about vaccine safety ("The risk-benefit ratio of safety is about as good as it gets with any medical intervention"); about allergic reactions (they're exceedingly rare, he said, but if you have a history, get your jab in a medical clinic); about pregnant women ("So far it looks quite safe for pregnant women"); about immune-compromised patients ("Yes, you have more reasons to get vaccinated"); and about children under 18 (new vaccines trials for children are already underway).
Fauci even made a convincing stab at explaining the intricacies of "messenger RNA" and how the manner in which this type of vaccine is made means it's impossible to get COVID-19 virus from an injection.
Speaking publicly to anyone who will listen has become part of Fauci's job, as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the president's chief medical advisor on the pandemic.
One of Biden's jobs is to help promote her husband's effort to fight the virus. She has already begun carving out her role and her causes just weeks after her husband was sworn in, but she has been advocating for military families for years, often in concert with former first lady Michelle Obama when Biden served as second lady.
As a military mother (her son, the late Beau Biden, served in the Delaware Army National Guard), she knows the community personally. Even before the inauguration, Biden signaled she intends to keep a campaign promise to revive Joining Forces, a support program for military families, caregivers and survivors that she and Michelle Obama once led.
Two days after the inauguration, she visited National Guard troops guarding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, bringing chocolate chip cookies she asked the White House kitchens to whip up. "The Bidens are a National Guard family," she told them.
She also joined a virtual tea party from the White House with military spouses and children to express support.
"I learned my love of this country from my (veteran) dad," she said on the Zoom conference, recalling how she often accompanied him to a war memorial.