Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have offered to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 — on camera — to help convince the public that it is safe and effective. President-elect Joe Biden has said he would too.
Is President Trump willing to do the same?
A senior administration official said this week that it is “certainly something that is under consideration.” But since the president has already had the coronavirus, the official suggested he would not necessarily be a “high priority” for receiving the vaccine, as it is not yet known how long immunity lasts for recovered patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The protection someone gains from having an infection (called natural immunity) varies depending on the disease, and it varies from person to person.”
“Since this virus is new, we don’t know how long natural immunity might last,” a note on the CDC’s website reads. “Some early evidence — based on some people — seems to suggest that natural immunity may not last very long.”
That uncertainty is why it’s critical for people like Trump, who received an experimental treatment for the virus, to be vaccinated as soon as possible, said Dr. Dara Kass, a Columbia University associate professor of emergency medicine and Yahoo News medical contributor.
“It is imperative he gets a vaccine,” Kass said. “And absolutely imperative that he gets the vaccine early.”
Trump was hospitalized for three days in October with complications from COVID-19. The president developed a fever and required supplemental oxygen before being transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received an experimental antibody treatment along with the antiviral remdesivir and the anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone.
And his unique treatment regimen could mean that the window for his potential immunity is smaller than that of most other people who have recovered from the coronavirus, Kass said.
“It’s actually unclear how his own body reacted naturally to the virus because he received synthetic antibodies that were always going to go away,” Kass said. “His case was a bridge to a vaccine for the most vulnerable patients.”
“Everyone should get the vaccine,” she added. “You should be vaccinated regardless if you have had the virus. There is reinfection, and we don’t know how long the immunity lasts.”
At the White House on Tuesday, Trump hosted a summit touting the success of Operation Warp Speed — the name of the administration’s effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine in less than a year. On Thursday, officials at the Food and Drug Administration are scheduled to hold a public meeting to assess an emergency use authorization (EUA) of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.
If the EUA is approved, which most experts expect, the first doses of the vaccine could be administered as soon as this weekend.
And from a public relations standpoint, the president would certainly be among the highest-priority candidates for receiving one of the first doses of the vaccine.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Kass said. “Of course you get vaccinated early, in public, to show it’s important to get vaccinated, important to show up for the second shot, important to wear a mask.”
“Trump could get it just to show it’s safe,” said Katy Milkman, a behavioral scientist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “It would be great if he were helpful in encouraging people to get vaccinated.”
In a recent Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans said they would take a coronavirus vaccine if one were approved and deemed safe by the FDA. Similarly, a Morning Consult poll found 61 percent of Americans are likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one becomes available.
Of the 2,201 Americans polled by Morning Consult, 37 percent responded they would “very likely” take it, and 24 percent “somewhat likely.” Another 11 percent said “somewhat unlikely” and 19 percent “very unlikely.” And 10 percent of respondents said they didn’t know.
The three ex-presidents said they believed a public display of confidence in the vaccine is critical to persuade Americans to receive it. Jimmy Carter, the only other living former president, said he would encourage people to be vaccinated but has not said whether he intends to receive it himself. Carter is 96 years old.
“I will be taking it, and I may take it on TV or have it filmed so people know that I trust this science,” Obama said in a radio interview last week. “If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe and can immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely I’ll take it.”
Spokesmen for Bush and Clinton each said the former presidents would get vaccinated on camera as soon as a vaccine is available. Biden told CNN he would join them.
“It matters what a president and vice president do,” Biden said. “I think my three predecessors have set the model on what should be done.”
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