WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to publicly receive a COVID-19 vaccine injection on Monday in an effort to boost confidence in its safety ahead of its wide distribution next year.
Biden has vowed to make the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 300,000 Americans and infected more than 17 million, his top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20. At age 78, he is in the high-risk group for the highly contagious respiratory disease.
Republican President Donald Trump, who lost the Nov. 3 election to his Democratic rival, frequently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and oversaw a response health experts say was disorganized and cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind disease transmission.
Trump was infected with the virus in the fall and multiple members of his inner circle and White House staff have also been infected. The outgoing president, making unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud, has focused on trying to overturn his election loss in recent weeks, even as daily COVID-19 deaths soared.
On Sunday, Trump’s campaign said it had filed a petition again asking the U.S. Supreme Court to upend the election results by overturning Pennsylvania court rulings involving mail ballots. Some members of Congress, where agreement was reached on Sunday on a new relief package in response to the pandemic, dismissed the challenge.
“I think based on the 57 cases and the initial rulings, you know, any fair-minded person would have to conclude that there’s a narrow, there’s a narrow path for the election to be overturned,” said Republican Senator John Kennedy.
U.S. VACCINE ROLLOUT
After the United States authorized a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE on Dec. 11, distribution of a second approved vaccine, made by Moderna Inc, began on Saturday.
Initial inoculations have been given to health professionals, and Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams received vaccines at a White House event on Friday as the administration scrambled to build support for what will be a nationwide program.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress also received the vaccine on Friday.
A Biden transition official said last week that Biden would receive a dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, while Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would likely get the vaccine the week after Biden.
Biden will inherit the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine to hundreds of millions of Americans, as well as the task of persuading people who worry its development was rushed for political reasons to take it.
Only 61% of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from Dec. 2 to 8 said they were open to getting vaccinated. That is short of the 70% officials say is needed to reach herd immunity, either through exposure or vaccination. Roughly 5% of Americans have been infected.
Efforts to limit the economic fallout on Americans from the pandemic were boosted on Sunday when congressional leaders agreed on a $900 billion package to provide the first new aid in months, with votes likely on Monday.
The measure would be the second-largest stimulus in U.S. history, following a $2.3 trillion aid bill passed in March. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it would include over $30 billion to support procurement and distribution of the vaccine, “ensuring it’s free and rapidly distributed to everyone.”
On Sunday, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel recommended that frontline essential workers and people aged 75 and older be next in line to receive the vaccine.