WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – United States President-elect Joe Biden plans to publicly receive a Covid-19 vaccine injection on Monday (Dec 21) in an effort to boost confidence in its safety ahead of its wide distribution next year.
Mr 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 disorganised and cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind disease transmission.
Mr Trump was infected with the virus in the autumn, 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, Mr Trump’s campaign said it had filed a petition again asking the US 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… path for the election to be overturned,” said Republican Senator John Kennedy.
After the US authorised 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 last 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 last Friday as the administration scrambled to build support for what will be a nationwide programme.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress also received the vaccine last Friday.
A Biden transition official said last week that Mr 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 him.
Mr 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 per cent 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 per cent officials say is needed to reach herd immunity, either through exposure or vaccination.
Roughly 5 per cent 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 US$900 billion (S$1.2 trillion) package to provide the first new aid in months, with votes likely on Monday.
The measure would be the second-largest stimulus in US history, following a US$2.3 trillion aid Bill passed in March.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it would include over US$30 billion to support procurement and distribution of the vaccine, “ensuring it’s free and rapidly distributed to everyone”.
On Sunday, a US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel recommended that front-line essential workers and people aged 75 and older be next in line to receive the vaccine.
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