Mike Pence, Joe Biden to get Covid-19 vaccine in bid to build public support

Pence (left) will receive the coronavirus vaccine in public on Dec 18, and Biden the following week. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Vice-President Mike Pence will receive the coronavirus vaccine in public on Friday (Dec 18) as the outgoing US administration and President-elect Joe Biden's team try to build support for a mass inoculation to stanch the deadly pandemic.

Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force, is poised to become the highest-profile recipient to date of a vaccine rolled out in the United States this week with hopes of curbing a virus that has killed more than 307,000 Americans.

Biden, set to take office on Jan 20, will publicly get the vaccine next week, according to transition officials.

At age 78, Biden is in the high-risk group for Covid-19, which has proven particularly dangerous among the elderly.

Pence's wife, Karen, and Surgeon-General Jerome Adams also will get the vaccine on Friday, according to the White House.

President Donald Trump will get the vaccine when his medical team decides it is best, according to the White House.

The Republican president was hospitalised and received treatment in October after testing positive for Covid-19.

Several European leaders were self-isolating on Thursday after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the virus, prompting a track-and-trace effort following meetings by EU heads of government in recent days.

Biden has vowed to make the fight against the pandemic his top priority when he takes office. Trump, who Biden has accused of surrendering to the public health crisis, frequently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and feuded with top US public health officials.

The vaccine, made by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, is expected to become widely available to the general public next year.

A panel of outside advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration is expected to endorse emergency use of a second vaccine by Moderna in a meeting on Thursday.

Many Americans remain sceptical. Only 61 per cent of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted from Dec 2 to 8, said they were open to getting vaccinated.

That is short of the 70 per cent level that public health officials have said is needed to reach herd immunity - achieved when a large portion of a given population is immune to a disease - either through exposure or vaccination. Roughly 5 per cent of Americans are believed to have been infected by the novel coronavirus.

One healthcare worker in Alaska experienced a severe allergic reaction after receiving the vaccine, officials said, in what is believed to be the only adverse reaction so far in the United States.

All over the United States, doctors, nurses and delivery people are wrestling with challenges in the vaccine rollout including delays, anxiety and keeping the vaccine at just the right level of cold.

Biden will inherit these logistical difficulties, as well as the task of persuading Americans to get the vaccine.

One of those tasked by Biden with building support, Dr Marcella Nunez-Smith, told a black civil rights group on Wednesday that the science was sound.

"The political interference risk was really, really removed," Nunez-Smith said on a call with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights group.

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