Trump suggests White House staff will wait longer for Covid-19 vaccines

Offering the vaccine to top government members was recommended by public health officials and career national security staff. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump suggested late on Sunday (Dec 13) that senior White House officials would wait longer for Covid-19 vaccines, hours after media outlets reported that senior officials were to receive doses within 10 days.

Mr Trump said on Twitter he had asked for an adjustment to be made to the plans to vaccinate White House officials.

"People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the programme, unless specifically necessary," Mr Trump wrote, adding: "I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time."

Reuters reported earlier on Sunday that Mr Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other top US officials would be offered the newly approved Covid-19 vaccine beginning on Monday as part of a plan aimed at ensuring continuity of government, a source familiar with the plan said.

Essential personnel at the White House and certain officials in all three branches of government were set to be vaccinated within the next 10 days, said the source. The shots will be staggered to monitor for possible side effects.

Mr Trump previously contracted the novel coronavirus and recovered. Many White House officials have already had Covid-19, potentially dampening their need for quick access to the vaccine.

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said before mr Trump's tweet that senior officials in the executive branch, Congress and judiciary would receive vaccinations in line with a protocol aimed at ensuring the US government can continue to operate during a pandemic or catastrophic emergency.

"The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership," Mr Ullyot said.

In September, Mr Pence told the Hill newspaper: "The very moment that it's appropriate for somebody in my category to get a vaccine, you'd better believe it. I, and my family, wouldn't hesitate."

A US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel on Saturday recommended the nation's first Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, as the US Covid-19 death toll topped 298,000.

Doses of the vaccine will reach 145 locations across the country on Monday, with initial shots to go to healthcare workers and elderly residents of long-term care homes.

A senior administration official said a comprehensive National Continuity Policy was established by the administration of former president Barack Obama in July 2016.

"This will further ensure that the United States government will continue essential operations, without interruption, for our citizens as we continue to fight this pandemic and work towards a return to prosperity for our nation," the official said.

It was not clear whether President-elect Joe Biden, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris and other members of Mr Biden's transition team would be offered vaccinations.

A Biden transition official said on Sunday that he will follow the guidance of Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious disease expert, about when to take a coronavirus vaccine. He will also have it administered in public.

US health officials on Sunday warned that scepticism about the vaccines among many Americans may be a barrier to the nation achieving "herd immunity" against the coronavirus.

"The way we get through this is to achieve herd immunity," US Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn said on ABC.

"And that means we need to vaccinate a significant number of people in this country, including those who are hesitant."

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