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Members of White House staff to get early access to coronavirus vaccine

President Trump speaks at an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House on Dec. 8.
President Trump speaks at an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House on Dec. 8. (Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg)

Some White House staff members will be among the first wave of people in the United States to receive coronavirus vaccinations, a Trump administration official said Sunday night.

The news comes as boxes of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine departed a facility in Michigan, with front-line health-care workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people expected to receive top priority.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement.

President Trump and several of his top aides have played down the severity of the virus that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans, with at least 16 million cases reported since late February. The virus has been surging throughout the United States.

The Trump administration plans come as the White House has forged ahead with a packed season of at least 25 indoor holiday parties, ignoring warnings from its own public health professionals to limit travel and avoid congregating in large group settings. At a number of the parties, some guests were maskless.

News of the White House vaccinations was first reported by the New York Times.

According to an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the move, the White House considers a coronavirus vaccine “a necessary resource for those continuity personnel across the executive branch to meet their continuity-focused roles and responsibilities.”

Citing a 2016 policy directive called the National Continuity Policy, the official said that vaccinations are warranted for “the appropriate leadership and staff across all branches,” without providing further specifics.

The White House declined to say whether Trump, who contracted covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, earlier this year, would receive the vaccine. Vice President Pence is expected to receive it soon.

If Trump and others take the vaccine publicly, that could encourage many of his supporters to take it. Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have volunteered to receive it in public. The White House has a steep uphill campaign to build trust in it after repeatedly politicizing the virus, as recently as Friday. The Office of Management and Budget has asked officials in at least four agencies to determine who needs the vaccine.

Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to the White House’s effort to develop a vaccine, said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that officials hope to get about 70 percent to 80 percent of the U.S. population vaccinated between May and June.

In the meantime, he said, those receiving priority will be “the long-term-care facility people, the elderly people with co-morbidities, the first-line workers, the health-care workers.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indoor gatherings pose more risks than those outdoors, and “gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people.”

Even so, members of the president’s inner circle — including Trump himself — have at times declined to wear face masks, and the White House has held parties this month that include more than 50 guests. Those events could risk the health of White House staff members and others who work at the parties.

News of the vaccinations is also likely to further the perception that those in proximity to Trump have received access to treatment that is unavailable to ordinary Americans amid the pandemic.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was recently released from the hospital after being treated for covid-19. In a radio interview after his discharge, Giuliani said he received remdesivir, dexamethasone and “exactly the same” treatment that Trump received when he was hospitalized in October.

He also said he was unaware that most Americans are not able to receive those medications because of scarcity issues.

“I didn’t know that. . . . I’m not sure about that,” Giuliani said.