News of vaccine developments and their effectiveness against the coronavirus have been hailed as the light at the end of the tunnel, with the pandemic dragging into its second year. But they have also been beset by misinformation and distrust.
In an effort to reassure citizens and supporters that the inoculations are safe, presidents, religious leaders and senior officials have gotten the jabs themselves, sometimes on live TV.
“When leaders get vaccinated publicly, it sends a message that the leaders have confidence in the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety and that leaders aren’t just ‘testing’ vaccines on certain members of the population,” Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, executive director of New York-based Public Health Informatics, Computational, and Operations Research, told VICE World News.
Lee, who is also a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Policy, noted that many top elected officials around the world have “tried to discount or dismiss the threat of the pandemic” so public inoculations would help boost confidence in the vaccine.
But not everyone is taking the same approach, with some officials declining to get the vaccine and citing the importance of priority for frontline workers and other at-risk groups. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and South Korean President Moon Jae-in fall into this category.
Here we take a look at many of the world leaders who have publicly gotten the jab (and which one), those who haven't yet, and the state of the vaccination drive around the world.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden completed his inoculation against COVID-19 on Jan. 11, 2021 in his home state of Delaware, barely a month after receiving the first dose. Major TV networks broadcast the event live for millions of Americans to watch. Most of the approved vaccines require double doses.
His wife, Jill, was vaccinated earlier in the day. Incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris also took the jab.
Biden told the American people from the hospital after the first round: “There’s nothing to worry about. I am looking forward to the second shot.”
Experts saw Biden’s public vaccination as a key ingredient to boosting the American people’s confidence in vaccines in a country where the virus has killed more than 400,000. Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife also got the jabs on live television in December last year, calling it a “medical miracle.”
Biden plans to vaccinate 100 million in the first 100 days of his administration, but it will be challenging as the U.S. is home to a strong anti-vaccine movement. But 71 percent of Americans surveyed in a November poll said they would get a COVID vaccine, an increase from 63 percent in August.
“Our plan is as clear as it is bold: Get more people vaccinated for free. Create more places for them to get vaccinated. Mobilize more medical teams to get the shots in people’s arms. Increase supply and get it out the door as soon as possible,” Biden said in an event outlining his administration’s plan.
America’s most prominent infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, received his first shot on Dec. 22, 2020. But unlike Biden, he received the Moderna version of the vaccine. Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines have been approved in the U.S.
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
The 84-year-old leader of the Catholic church received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 14 along with his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict, 93. They are both in a high-risk group for coronavirus because of their age.
Francis used the opportunity to endorse vaccinations for all, at a time when developing countries are scrambling to come up with plans to procure enough doses.
“I ask everyone—government leaders, businesses, international organizations—to foster cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone: vaccines for all, especially for the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet,” Francis said in a Christmas message.
Francis’ vaccination also sends a strong message to millions of Catholics around the world that the vaccine is okay and it conforms with teachings of the powerful church. The Vatican’s doctrinal office said it was “morally acceptable” to get it.
Queen Elizabeth II, United Kingdom
Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her husband Philip, 99, have received vaccinations against the coronavirus on Jan. 9 at Windsor Castle as a new variant of the virus, which is said to be more transmissible, threatens the United Kingdom.
The palace did not disclose which vaccine the couple took.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the shot on Jan. 9 to kick off his ambitious government plan to vaccinate “everyone,” but this does not include some 4.5 million Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Human Rights Watch called on Israel to vaccinate Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank under their international obligations.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou
Calling it “science’s greatest gift,” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou received a shot of a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 27 at a hospital in Athens, Greece.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also received the shot and hailed the European Union for simultaneously distributing the vaccines to member states. A video of it was posted to his Instagram account.
Some doctors and critics in Greece were angry, however, arguing that the shots should not go to government officials first.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
On Jan. 8, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong became the first Singaporean government official to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s painless, it’s effective and it’s important,” Lee said.
In December, Singapore was the first country in Asia to approve the use and receive the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The island nation of 5.7 million people has secured enough doses for its population and its foreign workers.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo
President Joko Widodo was the first person in Indonesia to be vaccinated on Jan. 13. He received Sinovac after the Southeast Asian became the first after China (where it was developed) to approve the vaccine, which critics argue lacks efficacy data. The vaccination at the presidential palace was broadcast on live TV.
In December, Indonesia received 1.8 million doses of the China-made vaccine which will be given to frontline medical workers. The country of 270 million people has the worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
It is unclear whether Chinese President Xi Jinping, or any senior Chinese officials, have publicly received the coronavirus vaccine. But Dr. Zhang Wenhong, a Shanghai-based infectious diseases expert, was inoculated against COVID-19 and urged millions of Chinese to do the same.
A year after the pandemic started in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei province, the country is doubling down on its vaccine diplomacy by offering China-made vaccines to poorer nations. But nagging questions on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines remain.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro has not publicly received a vaccine against COVID-19 and instead attacked the vaccination program, even jokingly suggesting the Pfizer vaccine could turn people into crocodiles.
“In the Pfizer contract it’s very clear: ‘we’re not responsible for any side effects.’ If you turn into a crocodile, it’s your problem,” he said.
But São Paulo governor João Doria, a rival of Bolsonaro, took the Sinovac vaccine in an emotionally charged ceremony on Jan. 18. Brazil has recorded 209,000 coronavirus deaths.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
In a country with high rates of anti-vaccine sentiment, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said he would get the jab, expressing preference for China or Russia’s vaccine. But the president flip-flopped and recently said he would rather let soldiers and healthcare workers get the vaccine before him.
The Duterte administration has been widely criticized for its failure to secure vaccines for its population of more than 100 million. Critics also expressed concern over Sinovac, which was said to show only 50.4 percent efficacy. Duterte’s spokesperson sparked outrage for saying Filipinos “cannot be choosy.”
“You do not increase vaccine confidence by demanding that the public not ask any questions. You increase vaccine confidence by providing answers to their questions,” said Dr. Gideon Lasco, a medical anthropologist with the University of the Philippines.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched on Jan. 16 the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination program, but pressure mounts on him and other senior officials to take the coronavirus vaccine amid widespread distrust.
The safety and efficacy of India-made Covaxin is in question after regulators approved the use of the vaccine said to be cheaper without Phase III trial results.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
In a televised speech on Jan. 8, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the importation of COVID-19 vaccines from the U.S. and Britain saying the two western countries were “untrustworthy.”
However, he said the coronavirus-hit country could import vaccines “from other reliable places.”
“Our people will not be a testing device for vaccine manufacturing companies. We shall purchase safe foreign vaccines,” President Hassan Rouhani said a day after the proclamation from the supreme leader.