White House officials to receive some of first Pfizer vaccines


Senior members of the Trump administration will be among the first people to be vaccinated against coronavirus in the US, officials say.

The officials said some White House staffers are expected to be given the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this week.

But on Sunday, President Donald Trump said early vaccinations would only be offered in specific cases.

The vaccine offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 and was deemed safe by US regulators on Friday.

The first three million doses of the vaccine are currently being distributed to dozens of locations in all 50 states across the US.

The first shipment of those doses left a facility in Michigan on Sunday, with health workers and the elderly in line to receive the first shots as early as Monday.

Coronavirus deaths have been rising sharply since November in the US, with a world-record daily increase of 3,309 reported on Saturday.

But the vaccine’s roll-out has been framed as a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken the lives of almost 300,000 people in the US.

Chart showing the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic
Chart showing the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said its emergency-use authorisation of the vaccine, announced on Friday, was a “significant milestone” in the pandemic, after coming under intense pressure from the Trump administration to approve the jab.

A mass inoculation drive using doses of the same vaccine has already begun in the UK. The Pfizer vaccine has received regulatory approval in Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as well.

Who will get the first vaccines in the White House?

Some of the first vaccines will be reserved for those who work in close proximity to Mr Trump, officials said told several US media outlets.

But eventually the vaccines will be offered to officials across all three branches of government, including the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court.

One unnamed official told Reuters news agency the vaccinations will ensure the government can “continue essential operations, without interruption”.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (C) as he walks to a meeting with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is among those within President Trump’s team to have previously tested positive for Covid-19

The vaccination plan, first reported by the New York Times, was confirmed by National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Ullyot on Sunday.

One aim of the programme was to build public confidence in the vaccine, he said.

“The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership,” Mr Ullyot said.

Boxes containing Pfizer's vaccine are unloaded from air shipping containers at UPS Worldport, in Louisville, Kentucky
Boxes containing Pfizer’s vaccine are being shipped across the US

Later on Sunday, Mr Trump clarified in a tweet that “people working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the programme, unless specifically necessary”.

Mr Trump, who contracted coronavirus in November and recovered after treatment in hospital, added: “I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time.”

There have been a number of coronavirus outbreaks in the White House, with several senior staffers and officials testing positive for the disease.

It was not clear if President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and members of their team would be offered early vaccinations.

How does the vaccine work?

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first coronavirus jab to show promising results in the latter stages of its testing process.

It is a new type called an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight Covid-19 and build immunity.

“The vaccine contains a small piece of the [Covid-19] virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive ‘spike’ protein,” the FDA said.

“When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against [Covid-19].”

The vaccine is given as two injections, 21 days apart, with the second dose being a booster. Immunity begins to kick in after the first dose but reaches its full effect seven days after the second dose.

The vaccine must be stored at ultra-low temperatures, which makes distribution difficult. Special shipping containers that use dry ice will be used to transport frozen vials direct to the point of vaccination, Pfizer says.

The pharmaceutical company has agreed a deal to supply the US with 100 million doses of the vaccine by March.

An additional 200 million doses of a second vaccine, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, will be provided by June. However this vaccine is still seeking approval in the US.





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