Trump stays off-camera as vaccine is distributed

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President Trump spent the weeks leading up to Election Day boasting of the rapid development of a vaccine for COVID-19 under his watch. But now that the shot is here, the president is nowhere to be seen.

Trump was absent when Vice President Pence became the highest-ranking White House official to get vaccinated in a televised event on Friday morning. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in her office on Friday afternoon, as did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

President-elect Joe Biden and incoming first lady Jill Biden will get their vaccine on Monday.

But the White House has not said when the president, who had the virus in early October, will get vaccinated. And he has been absent from any broader effort to encourage the public to get the shot.

It’s unclear why Trump hasn’t been more out front this week.

Trump has previously said he would take the vaccine, though he has not commented on it publicly since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially approved it for use earlier this month.

Over the weekend, Trump said he was reversing plans for some White House officials to receive early doses of the vaccine, though a small number of national security and senior staff are still expected to receive it.  

It’s unclear if other senior White House officials have been given the vaccine. Deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern told reporters Friday that it would be an individual choice to disclose whether an official had been vaccinated.

“The president’s perfectly willing to get it, and if the advice is that it is fine, it will be effective if he takes it sooner rather than later, he’ll do that,” Morgenstern said.

Trump held a White House event earlier this month to tout Operation Warp Speed, the effort to provide government support to develop a vaccine quickly. While there has been some criticism of the administration’s management of the program, it has been broadly seen as a success.

White House officials have insisted Trump is not reluctant to take the shot, but that he is merely prioritizing others since he may still have immunity from his bout with the virus. He received an antibody cocktail as part of his treatment in early October.

“Look, these are vaccines that [Trump] oversaw the development of, he has great confidence in,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this week. “He wants to see all Americans get this vaccine, and he wants to see the most vulnerable among us get it first. But, absolutely, he will be encouraging — encouraging Americans to take this.”

Health experts have emphasized the need for officials, current and former, to help build confidence in the vaccine so that enough of the public receives it. This includes having officials like Pence take the vaccine publicly in order to demonstrate to Americans that it is safe. 

“If you want to encourage people to take the vaccine you need a top down and a bottom up approach. You do want to see really high-level leaders taking the vaccine on TV but you don’t want to do it on a partisan basis,” said Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University. 

Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said Friday after Pence received his shot that Americans should “step to the plate” when it was their turn to get the vaccine, reasoning that widespread vaccinations would allow a return to normality next year.

But the president has not publicly and unequivocally encouraged Americans to get vaccinated, nor has there been a clear campaign from the White House for them to do so. 

Trump also has not commented publicly on the cyberattack on the U.S. government that is believed to be the worst such attack in U.S. history.

Trump has tweeted some boilerplate congratulatory messages.

“First Vaccine Administered. Congratulations USA! Congratulations WORLD!” Trump tweeted Monday.

“Moderna vaccine overwhelmingly approved. Distribution to start immediately,” Trump tweeted Friday.

Shortly after Pence received the vaccination, Trump also retweeted a conservative commentator who cast doubt on the efficacy of mask use and closures ordered by the state of California to blunt the spread of the virus. 

Trump since the election has seemed focused on publicly contesting his loss even as the Electoral College met this week and voted to make Joe Biden the president-elect.

Trump’s public absence comes as the pandemic spirals across the United States. The country earlier this week surpassed 300,000 total coronavirus deaths, and it set a new record for deaths in a single day with more than 3,600 on Wednesday.

The president has not commented on the pandemic, ongoing stimulus talks or a recent government hack, and White House officials would not say when the public might hear from him.

“There’s a lot of work that goes on that isn’t necessarily public,” Morgenstern said Friday. “But he is hard at work, and when it’s the appropriate time for him to come speak publicly, of course that’s his right, his prerogative to do.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Brian Morgenstern Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi operation warp speed
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