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Obama, Bush, Clinton say they will get COVID-19 vaccine publicly to show it's safe

The former presidents aim to build confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines when they become available.
/ Source: TODAY

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are out to show that if a coronavirus vaccine is good enough for a president, it's good enough for all Americans.

The three former presidents from both sides of the aisle have all pledged to take a COVID-19 vaccine on camera when it's available to them, hoping to assuage fears at a time when recent polls have shown that just under half of Americans said they would not take a vaccine.

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Obama spoke on "The Joe Madison Show" on SiriusXM Wednesday about his commitment to taking a vaccine.

"I promise you that when it's then made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it, and I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don't trust is getting COVID," he said.

Former presidents, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush
Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have said they will take a COVID-19 vaccine on camera when it becomes available to help with public confidence about vaccines. Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

A statement by Bush aide Freddy Ford provided to NBC News and first reported by CNN indicated that the 43rd president would also be publicly taking the vaccine when it becomes available.

"A few weeks ago President Bush asked me to let Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated," Ford said. "First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera."

Jenna Bush Hager, who is one of Bush's twin daughters, said on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Thursday that the presidents may get the vaccination on television or in a public service announcement "so that people know that we feel safe taking it, and you should, too."

She said she spoke with her father about it recently.

"I talked him and I'm like, 'When do you think we're going to have a vaccine?'" Jenna said. "He goes, 'I don't know, but I talked to Dr. Fauci, I hope to do it on TV so people aren't scared.'"

Clinton's staff also indicated he would take the vaccine and potentially be filmed doing it, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker reported on TODAY Thursday.

"I think that's great because I do think there are some people on the fence," Hoda Kotb said on TODAY. "They don't know if they want to be first in line, but when you watch the three former presidents, who are obviously from different parties, and they are all going to get to the front to that."

The statements by the former presidents come at a time when the coronavirus has run rampant across the country at a record-setting pace. Wednesday marked the worst day ever during the nearly nine months of the pandemic, with nearly 205,000 new cases, 100,000 people hospitalized and nearly 2,700 deaths, according to an NBC News tally.

Despite the surge, skepticism over taking a vaccine persists. A Gallup poll released Nov. 17 found that 42% of U.S. adults said they would not get a vaccine if it was available, which was actually down from 50% in September.

Obama cited the particular apprehension in the Black community, referencing the notorious Tuskegee study that began in the 1930s in which 399 Black men with syphilis were not given treatment for decades so that researchers could study the effects of the disease.

"I understand, historically, everything dating back all the way to the Tuskegee experiments and so forth, why the African American community would have some skepticism,” Obama said in his SiriusXM interview. "But the fact of the matter is, is that vaccines are why we don’t have polio anymore. And they’re the reason why we don’t have a whole bunch of kids dying from measles, and smallpox and diseases that used to decimate entire populations and communities."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, said in an interview with Bloomberg Monday that the country needs 75% to 85% of the population to get vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity involves getting to the point where enough people are immune to the disease, whether it's because they already had it or they have been vaccinated, so that it won’t spread very far if someone does get sick, infectious disease expert Dr. Marybeth Sexton previously told TODAY.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel voted Tuesday that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities will be the first people to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The Food and Drug Administration will consider approval of vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna later this month, with current estimates projecting that no more than 20 million doses of each vaccine will be available by the end of the year, and each product requires two doses.

Experts say the vaccine will probably not become widely available in the U.S. until the spring.