On Wednesday, responding to a challenge from Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock agreed to get the coronavirus vaccine live on television, to prove that the process is safe. He has now been joined in this promise of televised injection by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and a series of former American presidents.
Speaking with Hancock on GMB, Morgan said: “I’ll come to where you are anytime next week if we can do this. Let’s do it together, live on air. It would be powerful – it would send the right message.” Hancock responded that neither of them, being healthy middle-aged men, were priority candidates. He did, however, say that he was willing to do it at some point, “if we can get that approved and if people think that’s reasonable”.
Boris Johnson might also join in the fun, according to his press secretary, Allegra Stratton, who said: “We all know the character of the prime minister – I don't think it would be something that he would rule out.”
As with Hancock, however, Stratton expressed reservations about the Prime Minister taking up a jab when he’s not a priority candidate. “What we also know is that he wouldn't want to take a jab that should be for somebody who is extremely vulnerable, clinically vulnerable, and who should be getting it before him,” she clarified.
Speaking on Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon also said she would be up for it: “We won't leave any stone unturned in terms of trying to get the maximum number of people coming forward and taking this vaccine, and if me getting it done on live television can help with that, I will do that, happily,” she said.
However, she did also suggest that politicians might not be the best people to encourage vaccination; after all, they’re hardly the most widely liked demographic.
In light of this, the Scottish government is instead looking to encourage celebrity “vaccine ambassadors” to help normalise the procedure. Sturgeon said that, while nothing is confirmed, a widely respected public figure like Andy Murray would be perfect for the role. In England, meanwhile, it’s been suggested that the Royal Family and Marcus Rashford would be effective ambassadors.
Despite widespread jubilation around the Pfizer vaccine being approved, there is still a substantial segment of the British public who are unwilling to take it. A YouGov poll found that 21 percent of people considered themselves '“unlikely” to do so.
Some respondents simply consider themselves too low risk to bother, while others want to wait to see whether the vaccine is safe. Only a very small proportion cited outright anti-vaccination sentiments: 4 percent of the general population said they don’t trust the Pfizer vaccine specifically, while 2 percent are opposed to vaccinations in general..
It’s not just in the UK that public figures are considering a televised jab: across the Atlantic, three former presidents – Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W Bush – have also expressed an interest in being publicly vaccinated.
In an interview on SiriusXM radio, Obama said: “I will be taking it, and I may take it on TV or have it filmed so people know that I trust this science. If Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe and can immunise you from getting COVID, absolutely I’ll take it. What I don’t trust is getting COVID.”
A spokesperson for George W Bush, meanwhile, told CNN: “When the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated. 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.” Following this statement, a press aide for Bill Clinton suggested that the former President would be willing to do the same.
Earlier this year, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate warned that “the growing anti-vaccine movement could undermine the roll-out of any future vaccine against COVID-19”.
Whether politicians receiving the vaccine on television will be enough to assuage the suspicions of the anti-vaccination crowd – a demographic who, by and large, don’t tend to trust the political class – remains to be seen.