WASHINGTON – The leader of the Trump administration's vaccination program says people who have been infected with the coronavirus — a group that includes President Donald Trump — should receive the vaccine.
Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser of Operation Warp Speed, told CNN's “State of the Union” on Sunday that the vaccine is safe for those who have recovered and offers stronger and potentially longer protection than does the virus itself.
“We know that infection doesn’t induce a very strong immune response and it wanes over time. So I think, as a clear precaution, it is appropriate to be vaccinated because it’s safe," he said. “I think people should be vaccinated, indeed.”
Trump is now one of the only senior-most U.S. officials who has not received the first of two vaccination shots, which began being administered last week as part of the largest vaccination campaign in the nation's history. Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., all were given doses Friday. President-elect Joe Biden was to receive his Monday.
All have chosen to publicize their injections as part of a campaign to convince a skeptical public that the vaccines are safe and effective, in hopes of finally putting an end to a pandemic that has killed more than 317,000 people in the United States and upended life around the globe.
Trump, who in the past has spread misinformation about vaccine risks, tweeted earlier this month that he was “not scheduled” to take the vaccine, but looked “forward to doing so at the appropriate time.” The White House says he is still discussing timing with his doctors.
Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October and given an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment that he credited for his swift recovery.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory board has said people who received that treatment should wait at least 90 days to be vaccinated to avoid any potential interference.
“When the time is right, I’m sure he will remain willing to take it,” White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern echoed Friday. “It’s just something we’re working through.”
Trump has spent the last week largely out of sight as he continues to stew about his election loss and floats increasingly outlandish schemes to remain in power. It's an approach that has bewildered top aides who see his silence as a missed opportunity for the president, who leaves office Jan. 20, to claim credit for helping oversee the speedy development of the vaccine and to burnish his legacy.
Trump has also come under criticism for failing to take the vaccine himself as an example to help allay concerns about its safety, especially among Republicans.
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was the first to receive authorization, “is safe and likely efficacious" in people who have been infected with COVID-19 and “should be offered regardless of history of prior symptomatic or asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
While there is no recommended minimum wait time between infection and vaccination, because reinfection is uncommon in the three months after a person is infected, the committee said people who tested positive in the preceding 90 days "may delay vaccination until near the end of this period, if desired.”
But the advisers also recommended that those who received the kind of treatment Trump did should put off being vaccinated for at least 90 days.
“Currently, there are no data on the safety and efficacy of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination in persons who received monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma as part of COVID-19 treatment," they wrote, recommending that vaccination "be deferred for at least 90 days, as a precautionary measure until additional information becomes available, to avoid interference of the antibody treatment with vaccine-induced immune responses.”
Surgeon General Jerome Adams cited that recommendation on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday when asked if Trump planned to receive the shot on camera.
“From a scientific point of view, I will remind people that the president has had COVID within the last 90 days. He received the monoclonal antibodies. And that is actually one scenario where we tell people maybe you should hold off on getting the vaccine, talk to your health provider to find out the right time,” Adams said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has given other explanations for the delay. She told reporters last week that Trump was holding off, in part, "to show Americans that our priority are the most vulnerable.”
“The President wants to send a parallel message, which is, you know, our long-term care facility residents and our frontline workers are paramount in importance, and he wants to set an example in that regard,” she said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, is among those who have recommended that Trump be vaccinated without delay.
“Even though the president himself was infected, and he has, likely, antibodies that likely would be protective, we’re not sure how long that protection lasts. So, to be doubly sure, I would recommend that he get vaccinated,” he told ABC News.