Donald Trump Photograph:( The New York Times )
President Donald Trump said Sunday night that he would delay a plan for senior White House staff members to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, hours after The New York Times reported that the administration was planning to rapidly distribute the vaccine to its staff at a time when the first doses are generally being reserved for high-risk health care workers
President Donald Trump said Sunday night that he would delay a plan for senior White House staff members to receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, hours after The New York Times reported that the administration was planning to rapidly distribute the vaccine to its staff at a time when the first doses are generally being reserved for high-risk health care workers.
Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus in October and recovered after being hospitalized, also implied that he would get the vaccine himself at some point in the future, but said he had no immediate plans to do so.
“People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” Trump tweeted, hours after a National Security Council spokesperson had defended the plan. “I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time. Thank you!”
It was not immediately clear why the president decided to change the policy, or whether he had even been aware of it ahead of time. But White House staff members who work in close quarters with him had been told that they were scheduled to receive injections of the coronavirus vaccine soon, two people familiar with the distribution plans said.
The goal of distributing the vaccine in the West Wing was to prevent additional government officials from falling ill in the final weeks of the Trump administration. The hope was to eventually distribute the vaccine to everyone who works in the White House, one of the people said.
It was not clear how many doses were being allocated to the White House or how many were needed, since many staff members had already tested positive for the virus and recovered. While many Trump officials said they were eager to receive the vaccine and would take it if it were offered, others said they were concerned it would send the wrong message by making it appear as if Trump staff members were hopping the line to protect a president who has already recovered from the virus and bragged that he is now “immune.”
The first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine left a facility in Michigan early Sunday, with UPS and FedEx teaming up to ship doses to all 50 states for distribution.
“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” John Ullyot, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, had said in a statement earlier Sunday, defending the planned vaccinations. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government.”
The picture was murky on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have struggled for months to balance the need to carry on with legislative business despite fluctuating numbers of coronavirus cases in its own ranks. A congressional aide said Sunday evening that leaders on Capitol Hill had not yet been told how many doses would initially be available for lawmakers. Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, has overseen the coronavirus response inside the Capitol complex, but he has yet to make public any plans for vaccine distribution there.
A spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden declined to say whether Biden or incoming officials would receive early doses of the vaccine. But the president-elect said in a recent CNN interview that he would take the vaccine to serve as an example once Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said it was safe. “It’s important to communicate to the American people it’s safe; it’s safe to do this,” Biden said.
After months during which Trump and his senior advisers played down the virus, hosting campaign rallies and holiday parties where face masks were encouraged but never required, the news of White House officials suddenly taking the virus seriously enough to claim early doses of a vaccine was greeted by outrage from Democrats as well as the president’s longtime critics.
George T. Conway III, a prominent conservative lawyer and a vocal critic of Trump, noted that because the vaccine required a second dose 21 to 28 days after the first injection, there was little public benefit for White House staff members to receive them. The president has only 37 days left in office.
“If they were truly interested in protecting staffers,” Conway wrote on Twitter, “they would have been better off not holding super spreader events.”
Tim Hogan, a Democratic consultant and a former top aide to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign, said that Washington “will not come close to covering every health care worker with its first allotment of the vaccine, but a White House that downplayed the virus and held a half-year nationwide superspreader tour gets to cut the line.”
He called the White House vaccinations “a final middle finger to the nurses and doctors on the front lines from the Trump administration.”
A senior administration official said that vaccinating officials was necessary for “providing visible leadership to the nation and the world, and maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people.” The official added that vaccinating West Wing officials would help to “continue essential operations, without interruption” to help continue to fight the pandemic nationwide.
There have been multiple outbreaks of the coronavirus at the White House in recent months. Trump, the first lady and a half-dozen advisers tested positive at the end of September and in early October. Fauci later called a Rose Garden ceremony to announce Trump’s choice of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court a “superspreader event.”
A few weeks later, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and a group of other Pence staff members and advisers tested positive.
And a third wave hit the West Wing after the president’s election night party at the White House, where supporters gathered indoors and did not wear masks. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, got sick around that time, as did a number of other Trump advisers.
Most recently, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani tested positive, along with Jenna Ellis, another lawyer on the president’s legal team.