White House staffers working close to Trump, Pence to be offered early COVID-19 vaccine access
Move meant to prevent more spread of cornavirus in White House, sources say
Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House officials who work in close proximity to President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, while its public distribution is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech will be made available to those who work in close quarters with the country's top leaders, two people familiar with the matter confirmed. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House, which has already suffered from several outbreaks of the virus that infected Trump and other top officials, and other critical facilities.
It was not immediately clear how many officials would be offered the vaccine initially and whether Trump or Pence would get it.
The Trump administration is undertaking the vaccination program under federal continuity of government plans, officials said.
"Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy," said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot. "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."
The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported the news.
The move to vaccinate top U.S. officials would be consistent with the rollout of rapid testing machines for the coronavirus, which were similarly controlled by the federal government with kits reserved to protect the White House complex and other critical facilities.
According to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is not yet enough information to determine whether those who have had COVID-19 should also get the vaccine. Pence has not come down with the virus, and his aides have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine as the administration looks to boost public confidence in the shot.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart, meaning Trump administration officials would receive the final shot just weeks before leaving office.
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The Trump administration's vaccination plan could prove to be a boon for his successor, as aides to President-elect Joe Biden have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine and working to establish plans to boost virus safeguards in the West Wing to keep the 78-year-old Democrat healthy.
The White House vaccinations come as Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this December.
According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been informed how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.