Three former presidents say they would be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine publicly, once one becomes available, to encourage all Americans to get inoculated against a disease that has already killed more than 275,000 people nationwide.
Former President Barack Obama said during an episode of SiriusXM's "The Joe Madison Show" airing Thursday, "I promise you that when it's been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it."
"I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed," Obama added, "just so that people know that I trust this science."
That might not be possible for the foreseeable future, though. The Food and Drug Administration will consider authorizing emergency use of two vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna later this month, but current estimates project no more than 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available by the end of this year. Each product also requires two doses, meaning shots will be rationed in the early stages.
Healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line, the influential Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said earlier this week. That encompasses about 24 million people out of a U.S. population of around 330 million.
Still, former President Bill Clinton would "definitely" be willing to get a vaccine, as soon as one is "available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials," spokesman Angel Ureña said.
"And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same," Ureña said in a statement Thursday.
Ureña declined to answer a question on whether Clinton's team has been in touch with advisers to other former presidents about perhaps setting up a joint public immunization session whenever that might be possible.
Former President George W. Bush's chief of staff, Freddy Ford, told CNN the former president recently asked him to meet with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, to let them "know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated."
"First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations," Ford told the network. "Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera."
The only other living former president, Jimmy Carter, who at 96 is the oldest ex-president in U.S. history, also encouraged people to get vaccinated, but stopped short of pledging to do so himself in public.
"Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, said today that they are in full support of COVID-19 vaccine efforts and encourage everyone who is eligible to get immunized as soon as it becomes available in their communities," the Carter Center said in a statement.
Still, the overlapping sentiments by the other three former presidents come as the U.S. recorded more than 3,100 COVID-19 deaths in a single day, far outpacing the record set last spring. The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus has eclipsed 100,000 for the first time, and new cases have begun topping 200,000 a day, according to figures released Thursday.
President Donald Trump was asked this summer if he would consider being the first to take the vaccine to send a message that it was safe. The president said that going first could also lead to accusations that he was being selfish, but that he would take it if recommended to do so.
"I would absolutely, if they wanted me to, if they thought it was right. I would take it first or I would take it last," Trump said during a July interview with Fox News. "You know that if I take it first, I will be, either way, I lose on that one, right?"
Making the president among the first to get the vaccine could indeed be controversial, given that he tested positive for the virus so recently. Vaccine trials excluded volunteers who had diagnosed infections — including those who had gotten treatment for the virus, which Trump had in October.
During a Thursday roundtable in Memphis, Tennessee, with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss vaccine distribution, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the U.S. must restore national trust in immunizations.
"There's been a great deal of challenge over the years of this growing concern of what I call 'vaccine hesitancy,'" Redfield said. "It's really sad as an infectious disease physician to see many people choose to leave vaccination on the shelf for themselves, their family and the community."
Asked if he would personally be taking a vaccine, Pence gave a thumb's up and replied, "Absolutely."
Joe Biden said months ago he would take "a vaccine tomorrow" as soon as doing so was possible.
Biden has not commented on the prospect of undergoing immunization publicly to inspire confidence. He warned on Wednesday that the spread of the coronavirus pandemic over the next two months could kill as many as 250,000 more people, though he didn't offer details to back up his assessment, which is far bleaker than projections by experts.
"You cannot be traveling during these holidays," Biden told the public "as much as you want to."
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