First Lady Jill Biden comforts a young man who expressed his fear of needles as he received a vaccination during her visit to a COVID-19 vaccination site at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 22, 2021, as part of the administration's nationwide tour to reach Americans who haven't been vaccinated and promote vaccine education. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

First lady Jill Biden visited a pop up COVID-19 vaccination site at Jackson State University Tuesday as part of the Biden administration’s nationwide tour to reach Americans who haven’t been vaccinated and promote vaccine education.

“We care about the people of Mississippi,” Biden said. “We want them to be safe. We want them to be healthy. So I’m here today to ask all the people who can hear my voice who can see my face, to get your shot.”

At the vaccination site, Biden visited with a group of about 10 young people who were waiting to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. She held the hand of a middle schooler as he received his first shot, bonding over their shared fear of needles. 

During her remarks after touring the site, Biden emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are safe, effective and free.

“The vaccines might feel like a miracle, but there’s no faith required,” Biden said. “They’re a result of decades of rigorous scientific research and discoveries, and they’ve been held to the very same safety standard as every single vaccine that we’ve had here in America.”

The first lady’s visit comes as Mississippi continues to rank last in the nation in the share of its population that has been vaccinated. Only 32% of Mississippians have been fully vaccinated despite significant gains made in recent months in vaccinating the most vulnerable and making vaccine access more equitable.

MAP: Where Mississippians can get the COVID-19 vaccine

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who joined Biden for the tour, said her visit could “mitigate a lot of the rumors floating in the community as to why we can’t accept the shot.” 

Biden said that “not enough” Mississippians have been vaccinated and encouraged those who still have pressing questions about the vaccine to talk to their doctors to get whatever information they need to feel safe. 

The first lady also recalled the worst of the pandemic, and said Americans can’t forget the uncertainty and loneliness that they felt. She then contrasted those horrors with the path forward offered by widespread vaccination. 

“From barbeques to baseball games to boardwalks full of laughing children, summer is here and it has never felt more full of promise,” Biden said. “The fresh air smells sweeter without our masks… Choose to get your shot. And we’ll be able to celebrate this summer the way it should be: safe and together.”

Currently, Mississippi is the state furthest behind in reaching President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one COVID-19 shot into the arms of 70% of adults by July 4.

The Mississippi Department of Health reported on Monday that 1,076,034 people in Mississippi — about 36% of the state’s population — have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 958,000 people have been fully inoculated since the state began distributing vaccines in December.

No significant improvement is on the horizon as the state’s vaccination rate continues to tank. The 15,073 shots given last week represent a decrease of over 87% from February’s peak.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.