WASHINGTON (CN) — Vice President Mike Pence received the vaccine against the novel coronavirus on Friday.
“I didn’t feel a thing. Well done and we appreciate your service to the country,” an unflinching Pence said to staff of Walter Reed Medical Center who administered the injection to his upper arm during a televised event at the Eisenhower Executive Office.
In addition to the vice president, second lady Karen Pence also received an inoculation as did Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general.
“Karen and I wanted to step forward and take this vaccine and show the American people while we cut red tape, we cut no corners,” the vice president said, explaining that he and his wife opted to receive the inoculation publicly to instill confidence in its safety and efficacy.
Touted as 95% effective against the respiratory disease, the vaccine administered to the Pences was manufactured by Pfizer, which only received approval from the FDA last week to distribute its product under emergency authorization. The vaccine is approved for people 16 and up.
A second vaccine, this one by Moderna, is now on the cusp of being distributed nationwide. It was recommended for emergency use by advisers to the Food and Drug Administration about 12 hours ago.
The surgeon general, who is Black, emphasized during the press conference following his shot that it was vital for people of color, who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, to put aside distrust they may have about the drug, even while history may be on their side.
“The shameful Tuskegee experiments occurred in our lifetimes,” the surgeon general said. “We must acknowledge this history of mistreatment by the medical community and government.
In 1932, more than 600 Black men were infected with syphilis at the Tuskegee Institute under the guise that they were receiving free health care for “bad blood.” In fact, the men were used as guinea pigs, having not given informed consent, as researchers studied how the bacterial infection spread through the body.
In addition to being misled, many of the men were never given treatment once infected. Even after penicillin became the “drug of choice” for syphilis years later, it was never offered to them.
“It’s not only OK to have questions about a treatment you’re being offered,” the surgeon general said. “I want you to understand that. What is not normal is for you to let distrust to make a decision that is bad for yourself. I got the vaccine and I made a choice to protect my health. When it’s your turn, I need you to be informed and make a choice that is appropriate for your health.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, also appeared alongside the vice president and others televising their vaccination Friday morning.
The National Institute of Health is still waiting on its supply of the novel coronavirus vaccine, but it should arrive for staff and essential workers there in the next few days.
Across the United States, Covid-19 continues to surge unabated with a single-day record of nearly a quarter-million new cases being reported Thursday. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus tracker puts the number of infected across the U.S. over 17.2 million and the number dead at mor than 310,000.
“The effort that led to where we are today,” Fauci said Friday morning, “to see the vice president and surgeon general get vaccinated with a safe vaccine. … What we saw was the marriage of years of fundamental and basic clinical research that led to the extraordinary technology that led us to do something that is truly unprecedented.”
Fauci was not vaccinated on Friday but expected to receive his injection in the next few days.
The public is expected to be able to begin taking the vaccine sometime early next year, perhaps late February or early March, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show before the White House vaccinations got underway.
“The day will come that we will put the coronavirus in the past. It will be a combination of the vaccine and the ongoing vigilance of every American,” the vice president said.
Though Pence was hopeful 20 million Americans could be vaccinated by the end of December — just a couple weeks away — that could be overly optimistic.
Some states are already reporting delays in receiving doses of the Pfizer vaccine. On Dec. 16, the Associated Press reported that in Florida, for example, officials were supposed to receive about 450,000 doses in the next two weeks. But a portion of that shipment was put on hold. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker also reported delays around deliveries.
A representative from the White House did not immediately return request for comment Friday morning.
President-elect Joe Biden will receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday and the inoculation will be televised.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will also be vaccinated but not until the following week. A spokesperson for the Biden transition team said the staggering of vaccinations was a decision made out of an abundance of caution. Should there be any negative side effects from the treatment, the incoming administration will not be totally hamstrung.
Justices on the Supreme Court and all 535 members of Congress will soon receive vaccinations for Covid-19 as well.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be among the first in line to receive the vaccine. It is expected they will be conducted in private, on the suggestion of Brian Monahan, the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician.
Monahan has said there should be no reason to defer the move.