January 16, 2021

News West

West Coast News Network

Trump brags of vaccines, but will he promote the shots?

Even as President Trump claims credit for the rapid development of vaccines against the coronavirus, it remains unclear whether he will take the vaccine and how hard he’ll work to persuade skeptical followers to get immunized, particularly after he leaves office.

Other former presidents and public figures, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have publicly committed to taking the vaccine, which may be shipped out to medical centers and nursing homes as soon as this weekend.

President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, have already publicly committed to getting vaccinated.

Public health leaders say an all-out national effort will be necessary to convince unwilling Americans — including a majority of Republicans, according to some polls — to sign up and get a shot when the vaccine becomes more widely available, likely in the spring of next year.

“It’s pretty clear that, in America, different people take their advice from different authorities,” said Dr. Richard Besser, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who now heads the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It would likely have real impact if the president came out strongly for vaccination.”

The first vaccine expected to reach Americans — manufactured by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — is under review by the Food and Drug Administration and is likely to get regulatory approval this week. As soon as it does, the drugmaker plans to begin shipping vaccine across the country so states can begin implementing their immunization plans.

White House officials insist Trump will support the nationwide immunization effort, and the president on Tuesday afternoon plans to host a “Vaccine Summit,” during which he’s expected to tout his administration’s work in support of vaccine makers.

“The president has previously expressed his willingness to do whatever the experts thought was the best path, in terms of instilling vaccine confidence,” a senior White House aide told reporters Monday.

But, noting that Trump already had COVID-19, White House officials wouldn’t commit that he would publicly get vaccinated to help persuade more Americans to take the same step.

“There is an open question as to whether, ultimately, he will be one of the ones to take it on air,” the aide said.

Throughout the pandemic, Trump has been openly dismissive of public health guidance, including eschewing mask wearing and encouraging his supporters to pack into venues for his rallies, as recently as Saturday night in Georgia, despite the state’s surge in infections.

And, in the past, Trump has embraced the widely discredited notion that childhood vaccinations are linked to autism. “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes — AUTISM. Many such cases!” Trump tweeted on March 28, 2014.

More recently, during a 2019 measles outbreak that was linked to parents’ refusal to get their children vaccinated, Trump appeared to change course, telling reporters it was important for children to get the shot.

With coronavirus cases now exploding across the country, public health experts say a concerted nationwide effort will be necessary to get people immunized and may be the only thing that ultimately ends the public health crisis.

“It’s not going to be a pandemic for a lot longer, because I believe the vaccines are going to turn that around,” Fauci noted last month at an event organized by Chatham House, a British think tank.

Polls show that rising numbers of Americans are willing to take the coronavirus vaccine, as confidence in the development process has grown in recent months. And several healthcare leaders have predicted that as more Americans get vaccinated, making a return to normalcy possible, acceptance will rise further.

“There are people saying they’re not inclined to get the vaccine, but after they see healthcare workers and the medically fragile do fine, the attractiveness of having immunity will become apparent,” said former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who was Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary.

Leavitt downplayed the importance of Trump helping that effort, particularly after he leaves office. “Are there constituencies that will be convinced by the former president? Would that be useful? Yes,” he said. “Will it be critical? No.”

Nevertheless, 4 in 10 people in the latest Gallup poll still say they won’t get a coronavirus shot. (Last year, fewer than half of U.S. adults got a flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) Even some hospital leaders worry they won’t be able to convince all their staff to take the vaccine.

Hesitancy is heavily concentrated among Republicans, half of whom said they wouldn’t get vaccinated. By contrast, 70% of Democrats said they were willing to take the vaccine, Gallup found.

The distribution plans in the states will initially target healthcare workers and residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, where the coronavirus has taken a particularly deadly toll.

A second vaccine from drugmaker Moderna is expected to be cleared by the FDA next week and could begin shipping out soon after.

The speed of the vaccine development — which has been heavily financed by the federal government through Operation Warp Speed — is something for which the Trump administration can justifiably take credit, according to experts.

The administration earlier this year committed more than $10 billion to drugmakers to help speed research and production of vaccines. And while other wealthy countries such as Great Britain, Australia and the European Union also made advance vaccine purchases to speed development, the U.S. was among the most aggressive.

“We have to give Operation Warp Speed credit for getting vaccine through development and FDA approval as quickly as they did,” said Esther Krofah, executive director of FasterCures, a nonprofit think tank at the Milken Institute that is tracking COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.

Krofah notes, however, that actually vaccinating Americans may prove an equally large challenge.

“Where I see the blind spot,” she said, “is in the education and awareness, in creating an environment where people will actually accept it.”