Covid-19 vaccine brings rare show of unity among US leaders

Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress received the vaccine on Friday, while President-elect Joe Biden will take it on Monday

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician of the United States Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2020. Anna Moneymaker/Pool via REUTERS     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The US Congress has still not agreed on a Covid-19 relief bill or a funding deal to keep the US government open, but its leaders came together on Friday to receive the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine.

Following Vice President Mike Pence, who received the vaccine on Friday morning, the Democrat speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell became the first in Congress to be vaccinated this week.

“Today, with confidence in science and at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the Covid-19 vaccine,” Ms Pelosi, who is third in line for the presidency, tweeted on Friday afternoon.

“Just received the safe, effective Covid vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus,” Mr McConnell tweeted shortly thereafter.

Both leaders are older adults -- Ms Pelosi is 80 and Mr McConnell is 78 -- and are considered to be part of the vulnerable population. Their vaccines were administered by Capitol attending physician Brian Patrick Monahan. All 538 members of Congress have access to the vaccine, though not all of them may opt to take it.

Both Ms Pelosi and Mr McConnell committed to following government guidelines, such as continuing to wear masks and socially distance, even after receiving the vaccine.

“As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing and other science-based steps to save lives and crush the virus,” Ms Pelosi said.

The Biden transition team announced on Friday that President-elect Joe Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden will receive the vaccine on Monday in Delaware. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her spouse Doug Emhoff will take it the week after, said spokeswoman Jen Psaki. It is unclear if Mr Biden will receive the vaccine publicly, like Vice President Mike Pence, who was vaccinated on live television.

There is no word as yet if outgoing President Donald Trump will receive the vaccine. “The president, currently at this moment, has said he is absolutely open to taking the vaccine,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday. “He’s been emphatic about that to me privately and to you all publicly. But he did recently recover from Covid.” The President was infected from the disease in October and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.

The US vaccine distribution plan will occur in four phases, with the most vulnerable and health workers in phases 1 and 2, while the general public can expect to receive it in phase 4. The US has registered more than 311,000 deaths from Covid-19 and recorded over 17.3 million cases.

By publicly taking the vaccine, US leaders are hoping to boost public confidence in the preventive measure. A poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week found that 71 per cent of Americans are willing to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, but there is significant ambivalence towards the vaccine among many Americans and an anti-vaccination campaign is being led by members of the alt-right.

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