Three former U.S. presidents will likely be taking a vaccine for covid-19 on camera as soon as it’s available to them. In interviews with media outlets this week, Barack Obama and spokespeople for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton stated that they’ve volunteered to become part of an awareness campaign to encourage others to get vaccinated. They also tried to downplay concerns of receiving the vaccine before other high-risk individuals.
Barack Obama stated his willingness to take the vaccine in an interview scheduled to air in full Thursday with SiriusXM host Joe Madison. Representatives for Bush and Clinton told CNN the same late Wednesday night.
“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don’t trust is getting covid,” Obama said in an excerpt of his interview now available on YouTube.
The UK became the first Western country to approve the emergency use of a covid-19 vaccine this week—a messenger RNA vaccine co-developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech. The country plans to begin providing doses to the public sometime next week.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to hold an advisory committee meeting on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine December 10, during which outside experts will evaluate the trial data and offer their recommendations for approval or not. An official decision by the FDA on an emergency use authorization of the vaccine would likely come very soon after that. The same chain of events will take place December 17 for Moderna’s similar mRNA vaccine candidate. Yet another vaccine is close to the finish line—one developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca—but recent questions about how these trials were conducted have thrown a potential approval timeline into question.
Combined, Pfizer and Moderna may have somewhere around 40 million doses available to the U.S. by the end of December. However, both these vaccines require two doses spaced a month apart, so the true number of full vaccinations available in December would be closer to 20 million.
There are still questions about who exactly will be the first groups eligible for these doses. On Tuesday, a vaccine advisory panel assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided its own recommendations, voting nearly unanimously that health care workers should be given priority, along with elderly residents in long-term care facilities. Though these panel recommendations are typically followed, other federal officials have stated their own preferences, including CDC director Robert Redfield. In a recent interview with Fox News, Redfield appeared to support nursing home residents receiving the bulk of vaccine doses, with health care workers and other high-risk groups second after them. Ultimately, the decisions will be made on a state-by-state level, furthering the potential for confusion.
Regardless of who exactly will get the first doses, the three former presidents seem to be trying to avoid the appearance of receiving special treatment through early access to a vaccine.
“First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations,” Freddy Ford, Bush’s chief of staff, told CNN. “Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera.”
Clinton spokesman Angel Ureña offered the same sentiment. “President Clinton will 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,” Ureña told CNN.
It’s unclear at this point whether Jimmy Carter, the only other living former president, will join this awareness campaign. Of the four, Carter has been the most prominently involved in public health work after his tenure, having spearheaded efforts dedicated to the eradication of the parasitic Guinea worm disease. A representative for Carter has not responded to a request for comment.