Three former presidents—Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush—have all publicly said they will take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. And they’ve indicated they may do it live on TV to help improve the public’s trust in the vaccine.
“I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it,” President Obama said in on The Joe Madison Show on SirusXM. “I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed just so that people know that I trust this science. What I don’t trust is getting COVID.”
Obama also said that he particularly trusts the opinion of Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if Dr. Fauci “tells me this vaccine is safe and can vaccinate immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely I’m going to take it,” he said.
Two pharmaceutical companies, Moderna and Pfizer, have submitted their vaccine candidates for review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to receive an emergency-use authorization. Both appear to be at least 90% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, according to data released by the companies. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the vaccines also prevent asymptomatic infections, which is important to note because people can still spread the infection even if they don’t have noticeable symptoms. We’ll have to wait for more data and the full FDA review to know exactly how effective these vaccines are at preventing COVID-19 infections and preventing the spread of the virus.
Former presidents Clinton and Bush also confirmed to CNN that they would be up for taking the vaccine on camera. “A few weeks ago President Bush asked me to let Dr. Fauci and [Deborah Birx, M.D., the White House coronavirus response coordinator] know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated,” Bush’s chief of staff told CNN. “First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then President Bush will get in line for his and will gladly do so on camera.”
And Clinton’s press secretary told CNN that the former president would “definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials. And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”
Previously, Dr. Fauci said the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines could become available for health care workers and those most vulnerable to severe coronavirus complication within the next month. And there would likely be enough doses available for any American who wants one to get vaccinated by mid-2021. But it will be a challenge to convince enough people to get the vaccine to achieve herd immunity, he said, which would require at least 75% of the population to be vaccinated. (This would also depend on the vaccine preventing transmission of the coronavirus, not just symptomatic infection.)
That means that combatting vaccine hesitancy, which has already been an issue in the U.S. for some time, should be a top concern in the next few months. The most effective strategies doctors use to increase patients’ confidence in a vaccine include practicing empathy, genuinely listening to people’s concerns, and clearly and accurately framing the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine compared to the disease it can prevent. Some doctors say it also helps to give examples from their own life, like explaining that their own children also receive regular vaccinations.
And knowing how deeply entrenched many vaccine myths are, we’ll need all hands on deck—or TV—in the next few months to help Americans feel confident in their choice to get vaccinated.
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