“I will be taking it, and I may take it on TV or have it filmed so people know that I trust this science,” Obama said in an interview on SiriusXM radio. “If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe and can immunise you from getting COVID, absolutely I’ll take it.”
“What I don’t trust is getting COVID,” he added.
Obama joins former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in supporting an eventual COVID-19 vaccine deemed to be safe by public health officials. Bush’s chief of staff told CNN: “When the time is right, [Bush] wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated.”
“First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations,” the chief of staff, Freddy Ford, said. “Then, President Bush will get in line for his and will gladly do so on camera.”
Clinton’s press aide also told the outlet that the Democrat “will definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him” and do so in a public setting.
Obama said he trusted Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, “completely” and would use him as a touchstone for wisdom surrounding any vaccines. Fauci himself has said in recent days he had hope after several vaccine candidates — from Pfizer and Moderna — released “spectacular” results from large-scale trials. Pfizer applied last month and Moderna this week for emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration, an encouraging sign for the wide rollout of a vaccine (the agency plans to convene an advisory panel on the Pfizer candidate on Dec. 10 and could make a decision on the treatment shortly afterward).
But Obama’s comments this week come amid troubling news for the U.S. More than 100,000 people were hospitalized with the virus and 200,000 others tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the first time the country had seen either figure during the course of the pandemic. The nation was also on track to hit a daily high for coronavirus deaths on Wednesday.
Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned Americans that the coming months would, in his estimation, be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
“I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans who’ve died from this virus,” Redfield added in a bleak address.
More than 270,000 people have already died of COVID-19 in the U.S., more than any in other nation.
At the same time, public trust in a vaccine has seesawed in recent months. In a Gallup poll, 58% of Americans said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, up from a low of 50% in September. But those surveys found 42% still said they would not get one, a significant hurdle in getting the U.S. economy back to normal.
Obama addressed such concerns in his interview this week, pointing specifically to fears among communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus. Only 48% of non-white Americans said they planned to get a vaccine, and Obama pointed to longstanding distrust in government programs.
“I understand, historically, everything dating back all the way to the Tuskegee experiments and so forth, why the African American community would have some skepticism,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, is that vaccines are why we don’t have polio anymore. And they’re the reason why we don’t have a whole bunch of kids dying from measles, and smallpox and diseases that used to decimate entire populations and communities.”