WASHINGTON DC: US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife received the COVID-19 vaccine live on television on Friday (Dec 18) in a public display designed to assure Americans that the vaccine is safe.
"Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning," Pence said after being injected at the White House, quipping: "I didn't feel a thing."
“The American people can be confident: We have one, and perhaps within hours, two safe vaccines," he added, referring to the expected Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Moderna's vaccine.
After US deaths from the coronavirus topped 3,000 for a third straight day, Pence called the vaccinations a sign of hope, with 20 million doses expected to be distributed nationwide before the end of December and hundreds of millions more going out in the first half of 2021.
Pence is the highest-profile recipient of a COVID-19 vaccine to date.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams also received the shot during the televised event. All three were given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
It caps the country's first week of a mass immunisation programme against a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
Signalling the importance given to the event, top infectious diseases Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield were also in the room.
The notable absence was President Donald Trump himself. He has sent mixed messages about the seriousness of COVID-19 throughout the crisis.
However, he has been keen to take credit for the historic speed of vaccine development. Early Friday, he tweeted that a second drug made by Moderna had been "overwhelmingly approved" and that "distribution to start immediately".
This sparked some confusion - while an advisory panel recommended emergency use approval for Moderna's vaccine on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to give the final verdict allowing distribution - expected later Friday.
Trump himself has made clear he is not planning to take the vaccine imminently, citing the belief that his recovery from a brief but severe bout of COVID-19 has given him immunity.
"He will receive the vaccine as soon as his medical team determines it's best. But his priority is frontline workers, those in long-term care facilities," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
President-elect Joe Biden, 78, has announced plans to take a vaccine in public soon, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both said on Thursday that they will get vaccinated in the next few days.
DEATHS FROM COVID-19 TOP 3,000 AGAIN
US deaths from COVID-19 topped 3,000 for a third straight day, with a record number of 239,903 new infections on Thursday.
Health experts have warned of a deepening crisis this winter as intensive care units (ICUs) fill up and hospital beds spill over into hallways. US hospitalisations have set a new record on each of the past 20 days, approaching 114,000 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally.
"We expect to have more dead bodies than we have spaces for them," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told a briefing on Thursday, saying the country's second-largest city had fully exhausted its ICU capacity.
To help slow the pandemic, the FDA has promised to work rapidly toward granting emergency approval of Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a week after authorising the first vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE.
Both vaccines require two doses, given three or four weeks apart, for each person inoculated.
Health authorities have sought to reassure Americans that large-scale clinical trials and scientific review found the vaccines to be safe and effective.
Large numbers of Americans subscribe to the anti-vaccination movement and hostility to the COVID-19 vaccines in particular has been stirred by influential right-wing media personalities.