Ian McKellen, Biden — and Trudeau? Experts torn on when VIPs should get COVID-19 shot

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WATCH: When should world leaders get vaccinated? – Dec 18, 2020

Politicians and celebrities are deciding to roll up their sleeves and get the coronavirus vaccine as nations such as Canada and the United States start to roll out the shot.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, 78, will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week, according to officials. And Vice President Mike Pence, 61, will get the vaccine on Friday, the White House said.

Read more: Biden to receive coronavirus vaccine next week, Pence set to be vaccinated Friday

On Thursday, 81-year-old actor Sir Ian McKellen, known for his roles in X-Men and Lord of the Rings, received the Pfizer vaccine in London. After he got the shot he took to Twitter saying he feels “very lucky to have had the vaccine,” and has “no hesitation recommending it to anyone.”

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In Canada, the first round of the Pfizer vaccine has been administered to vulnerable populations, such as healthcare employees and seniors. Currently, a politician has not publicly received a COVID-vaccine.

Global News reached out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking if he plans on getting the shot in the near future.

A spokesperson from his office referred to comments Trudeau made Monday that he will get vaccinated “when the time comes,” but it should be given to the most vulnerable people first. As soon as it’s his turn he said he will take the vaccine in a very “visible” and “enthusiastic” way.

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Helps build public confidence

Ana Santos Rutschman, a professor at the Center for Health Law Studies of Saint Louis University, said because a percentage of the population is hesitant to get the coronavirus vaccine, having a celebrity or politician get inoculated can help build public confidence.

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“Getting vaccinated on television, it’s not a publicity stunt, it’s how we get the public to gain trust in vaccines,” she said.

“Thomas Jefferson got the (smallpox) vaccine before he became president. … It was made into a showing to incentivize people to get it and show them it’s safe. That’s how we started modelling vaccine trust in the U.S.”

In 1956 Elvis publicly rolled up his sleeve for the polio vaccine in order to encourage his fans to do the same.

Read more: Should people get paid to get the coronavirus vaccine? Experts are torn

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Prime Minister Trudeau meets with COVID-19 vaccine recipients in Ottawa – Dec 15, 2020

According to Ipsos polling carried out for Global News between Oct. 23 and 26, just 54 per cent of the Canadian public is willing to take a vaccine as soon as they can.

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That’s not just in Canada. Polling from south of the border shows a majority of Americans saying they would be uncomfortable being among the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine, and a sizable minority said they will pass on getting vaccinated, according to Pew Research.

A vaccine information campaign could help gain public trust, Rutschman argued, but because there is such a short timeline until the general public gets a shot, the best way to gain confidence is for politicians to lead by example.

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Politicians should wait their turn

Biden is scheduled to receive the vaccine publicly in the coming days and has already addressed any controversy surrounding the decision.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden said at an event on Wednesday. Biden is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus because of his age.

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Trump will get the vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it is best, the White House said on Tuesday. The president was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 this fall.

Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton previously volunteered to get their COVID-19 vaccines on camera to promote public confidence in the vaccine’s safety.

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Although American politicians seem eager to lead by example, Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases faculty member at the University of Toronto, said unless they are in the vulnerable population category, they should wait their turn.

“I think that people can certainly promote the vaccine publicly, but I really think it sends the right message when the appropriate people are vaccinated at the appropriate time,” he said.

“And while it would be wonderful for very high profile individuals in the community — so political leaders, business leaders, sports leaders and arts leaders — for them to promote the vaccine, I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to jump the queue and be vaccinated before their time.”

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Bogoch added that the U.S. is in a different situation than Canada, which is why more politicians may be standing in line to get a vaccine.

While Canada has procured thousands of vaccines before the end of December, the U.S. still has more per capita, and the ability to roll it out faster, he said.

Read more: How long will the COVID-19 vaccine protect you? Here’s what we know so far

“I don’t think we should be treating Canada and the United States the same. We have a more limited supply … our roll-out is going to take longer. I think it sends the best message that we continue to do this in an equitable and data-driven manner, and no one jumps the queue. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

But, Bogoch said that doesn’t mean leaders can’t speak positively about the vaccine, and if anything, they should promote it when it’s their turn to get vaccinated.

— With files from Rachael D’Amore, Global News.

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