The first shipments of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine arriving at hospitals across the United States will feel like a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of Americans, who have endured the world’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19.
More than 300,000 people in the US have died during the pandemic, and 16 million others have been infected by the virus. But the initial shipments will be limited, so US states have been told to prioritise who should receive the injections first.
Frontline healthcare workers and residents at long-term care facilities are expected to be first in the queue.
Some of the most powerful people in Washington DC, including President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, have also been offered the vaccine in the next 10 days.
So why do they get to be at the front of the line?
It’s partly for national security reasons, but it’s also aimed at sending a message to Americans who may have reservations about taking the vaccine when it’s widely available next year.
Early vaccinations to keep the country running
Members of Congress and justices on the US Supreme Court are among those expected to get early access to the vaccine, though details are yet to be announced.
The main reason to quickly vaccinate officeholders is to ensure the US Government can keep functioning through the final months of the pandemic.
“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” National Security Council spokesperson John Ulyot explained when announcing the plan.
An outbreak at the White House that started in October has shown what can happen when coronavirus infiltrates the highest echelons of power.
Dozens of staffers and visitors to the White House have contracted COVID-19 in recent months, including President Trump, who spent several days in hospital.
More than 130 Secret Service agents, who guard the president and his family, were infected or forced to quarantine in November, according to the Washington Post.
So will Trump accept an offer to be vaccinated?
President Trump has said on Twitter that he doesn’t plan to take the vaccine in the first round.
“I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time,” he wrote on Twitter.
President Trump’s closest advisors who work in the West Wing were initially on the list to get early access to the vaccine.
That drew criticism from some Democrats and scientists who said many White House staffers rarely wore masks and organised mass gatherings including parties and rallies during the pandemic.
But several hours later, the President backed down and said his aides would not be granted early access to the drug.
“People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I have asked that this adjustment be made. Thank you!”
Vice-President Mike Pence has not confirmed whether he will be vaccinated in the next 10 days.
“The very moment that it’s appropriate for somebody in my category to get a vaccine, you better believe it. I, and my family, wouldn’t hesitate,” he told The Hill in September.
What about Joe Biden? Does he get early access?
It’s not yet clear if president-elect Joe Biden and his incoming deputy Kamala Harris will be among the officials offered vaccinations in the next 10 days.
But Mr Biden says when it’s offered to him, he wants to take the vaccine in public to show it’s safe.
The president-elect has set a goal of 100 million Americans getting vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. But some people are already suspicious of the vaccine.
Last month, only 58 per cent of Americans said they would willingly get the injection, according to Gallup.
Some of those polled said they were concerned the development of the vaccine had been rushed, while others said they wanted to wait and see how effective it was before being injected.
Three of Joe Biden’s powerful predecessors may be deployed to convince the public to get vaccinated.
Former presidents want to be vaccinated publicly
Former presidents Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton have all offered to roll up their sleeves and be injected with the vaccine while America watches.
“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science,” Mr Obama said.
Since all three men are now retired from public office, they’re unlikely to be at the front of the queue for vaccinations this month.
But because they’re respected public figures, they may be used in campaigns in the coming months to encourage other Americans to get the jab when the vaccine is more widely available.
With US officials aiming to have every American vaccinated by June 2021, they may need all the encouragement they can get.