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Explained: Why 3 former US presidents are offering to take the Covid-19 vaccine publicly

Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton have volunteered to get their Covid-19 vaccinations on camera. Why are they doing this?

Written by Rahel Philipose , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 10, 2020 12:12:19 pm
three former US Presidents to take Covid-19 vaccine publicly, george w bush, barack obama, bill clinton, us covid cases, coronavirus vaccine, indian expressThe US’ three most recent former Presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton — have volunteered to get their Covid-19 vaccinations on camera. (AP)

Three former presidents of the United States have said they are willing to get inoculated against the novel coronavirus on television in order to allay fears of Americans doubting the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.

The ex-presidents have launched their awareness campaign less than a week before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to meet to decide whether to authorise a Covid-19 vaccine produced by biopharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNtech.

With the United States consistently reporting the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the world, a viable coronavirus vaccine is integral to reign in the devastating impact of the pandemic. However, widespread vaccine skepticism in the US is proving to be yet another setback for public health officials and political leaders to tackle.

Who are the US Presidents who have volunteered to take the vaccine publicly?

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The US’ three most recent former Presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton — have volunteered to get their Covid-19 vaccinations on camera. With this move they hope to raise awareness about the vaccine and promote confidence in its safety and effectiveness.

Obama said he would take the vaccine once it was approved by the country’s regulators and top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci. “I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it,” he said in an interview on SiriusXM’s ‘The Joe Madison Show’, earlier this week.

Obama, who served as the 44th president of the United States before Donald Trump, is not known to suffer from any serious health risks. “I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don’t trust is getting Covid,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bush’s Chief of Staff Freddy Ford told CNN that the 74-year-old ex-president is also open to being inoculated before the public. “A few weeks ago, President Bush asked me to let Dr Fauci and Dr Birx know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated,” he told CNN.

On Wednesday, Clinton’s Press Secretary told CNN that he, too, would be willing to be filmed while getting vaccinated against the disease. “President Clinton will definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials,” his spokesperson Angel Urena said. “And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”

Also in Explained | Is ‘natural immunity’ from Covid-19 better than a vaccine?

Why are they doing this?

The main purpose of their campaign is to raise awareness about the Covid-19 vaccine and to encourage all Americans to get vaccinated against the disease.

With over 14.5 million people testing positive for the infection and more than 281,000 succumbing to it, the United States has the highest Covid-19 caseload and death toll in the world. While a vaccine may seem like the obvious solution to bring down the number of cases and deaths being reported in the country, thousands of Americans remain sceptical.

In fact, a recent poll by Gallup showed that around 42 per cent of the country would not be willing to take the vaccine even if it was “available right now at no cost”. However, this marks a slight improvement from a poll conducted in September, where 50 per cent said they were not open to the idea of getting the vaccine.

According to the Gallup poll, Democrats currently show the largest increase in terms of willingness to get inoculated, but the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue has narrowed over the months.

At least 37 per cent of Americans who were interviewed said that they would not get a vaccine simply because they felt the timeline of its development was rushed. Around 26 per cent said they wanted to wait until they knew for certain that the vaccine is safe. Several also cited a distrust of vaccines in general.

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in September, African Americans were the least likely to say that they would definitely get a vaccine for Covid if it were available today. Studies show that their reluctance to get the vaccine is possibly due to the long history of racial inequity in the American healthcare system.

But Dr Fauci and his ilk repeatedly called for a more diverse representation of the population in the clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines, particularly due to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on non-white communities. In fact, enrollment in Moderna’s clinical trial slowed down briefly after its lack of Black, latino and Native American participants was pointed out. Pfizer, too, expanded its trial to make it more racially diverse. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

How likely are they to actually get vaccinated in the near future?

It is highly unlikely for the three presidents to get vaccinated in the foreseeable future, AP reported. Even if the FDA approves the Covid vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna for emergency use, current estimates project that only around 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available by the end of the year.

In the initial stages of inoculation, health care workers and the residents of nursing homes should be given priority, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — a prominent government advisory panel. That alone accounts for around 24 million out of the US’ total population of around 330 million, an AP report stated.

Who are the other world leaders who have offered to take the vaccine publicly?

To assuage public distrust in a Covid-19 vaccine, several world leaders and top officials have said that they will take the vaccine in a public setting. US President-elect Joe Biden has said he will be happy to join the former presidents in getting the vaccine in public to prove that it is safe.

“When Dr. Fauci says we have a vaccine that is safe, that’s the moment in which I will stand before the public,” he said in an interview with CNN. “It matters what a president and vice president do. I think my three predecessors have set the model on what should be done.”

The Director of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, too, has said that he will take the vaccine on camera if it will help build public confidence. “I would be happy to do the same thing, but at the same time, I need to also make sure that it’s my turn because I don’t want to take anybody’s vaccine,” he said, earlier this week.

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