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4 presidents taking the vaccine is a start — but there’s more to do

In this Jan. 16, 2010, file photo President Barack Obama, center, walks out of the Oval Office of the White House with former Presidents Bill Clinton, left, and George W. Bush, right, to deliver remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Three former presidents say they’d be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine publicly, once one becomes available, to encourage all Americans to get inoculated against a disease that has already killed more than 273,000 people nationwide.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

President-elect Joe Biden and three former presidents have said they plan to be injected with a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available, as a demonstration to the public that it is safe.

That’s a good idea, but we hope they also make their follow-up shots, three to four weeks later, equally public, as well as any temporary fever or discomfort they may feel as side effects. They also need to demonstrate the need to continue wearing masks and socially distancing during the interim.

Even so, that would just be the start.

It’s vitally important that about 70% of the population becomes inoculated in order to achieve the herd immunity necessary for the virus to cease its relentless march through American homes. For that to happen, authorities need to be fully transparent about the shots, and they need a strong effort to combat the misinformation that is sure to attempt an equally relentless march across the country.

Biden’s decision last week to retain Dr. Anthony Fauci as the chief medical adviser to the White House was an excellent move. Fauci’s calm, professional manner with the American people has succeeded in gaining wide, bipartisan confidence, despite the hyperventilations of a recent political season.

A Politico survey in October found 79% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans saying Fauci had done a good or excellent job handling the pandemic. His presence will provide a sense of continuity in Washington, despite the change in administrations.

Political leaders, both in Washington and, especially, in cities and counties, also need to be ready with a well-defined and efficient plan for distributing the vaccines equitably, as well as for making sure people follow up with their second doses. This will be particularly important for the nation’s most vulnerable people — the elderly, the homeless, those with poor English-speaking skills and people of meager means.

Leaders need clearly articulated strategies for ensuring people receive both necessary doses. This could be tricky with people whose whereabouts are difficult to track, or who may become suspicious, for whatever reason, between doses.

Social media will play a big role in containing misinformation. So far, the big three — Facebook (which also owns Instagram), Twitter and TikTok — have said they will remove vaccine-related content that is misleading or false. Keeping up, however, may be difficult.

CNN Business has reported that its own cursory investigation uncovered at least a dozen groups on Facebook that advocate against vaccines of all types, and at least one specifically formed to attack the COVID-19 vaccines. Some of these groups involve tens of thousands of users.

Blocking and countering these attacks will be key to building a high level of public confidence. In some ways, this effort already is behind. A Gallup poll taken last month found only 58% of Americans saying they would take the vaccine, which was up from 50% in September, but down from 66% in July.

In fighting these efforts, government officials need to be helpful and confident, not dismissive of concerns. Many people have legitimate worries about the speed with which the vaccines have been approved. These concerns must be addressed openly and convincingly.

Having trusted leaders from both parties — former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — as well as Biden take their doses in front of cameras will be a good start, but only the beginning.