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Biden to get COVID-19 vaccine next week, Pence to receive it Friday

WILMINGTON, Del./WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week, transition officials said on Wednesday, as U.S. authorities try to build public confidence in a measure that promises to stanch the deadly pandemic.

Vice President Mike Pence will get the vaccine on Friday, the White House said.

Both men will receive the shot publicly in an effort to boost confidence in the safety of the vaccine, which will become widely available to the public next year.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden said at an event earlier on Wednesday. Biden, 78, is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus because of his age.

Biden has vowed to make the fight against the virus his top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20. President Donald Trump, who lost the Nov. 3 election to Biden, has frequently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, which has killed 304,187 Americans so far, and feuded with his top public health officials.

Trump will get the vaccine himself as soon as his medical team determines it is best, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday. The president was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 this fall.

Initial doses of the vaccine, which became available in the United States this week, have been set aside for doctors, nurses and other frontline medical workers, along with residents and staff of nursing homes and some U.S. government officials.

U.S. officials aim to get 2.9 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE, by week’s end.

One health worker in Alaska had a severe allergic reaction after receiving the vaccine, officials said on Wednesday in what is believed to be the only adverse reaction so far in the United States.

FILE PHOTO: Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are ready to be administered at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

A significant portion of the American public has shown disdain for basic public health recommendations, such as wearing a mask, and only 61% of respondents in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said they were open to getting vaccinated.

Scientists believe that “herd immunity” against the virus could be achieved once about 70% of the population has been exposed to it, either through natural infection or a vaccine.

Some 16.7 million Americans have been infected so far, equal to roughly 5% of the population.

Pence’s wife, Karen, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams also will get the vaccine on Friday, the White House said.

Biden’s transition team did not say when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would get the vaccine.

‘U.S. SHOULD LEAD THE WAY’

Biden is building his incoming administration as he prepares for his inauguration next month.

On Wednesday, he introduced former presidential rival Pete Buttigieg as his choice for U.S. transportation secretary to take the lead in upgrading America’s aging infrastructure.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would be the first openly gay Cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate if he is approved.

“The Biden-Harris Cabinet will be a historic Cabinet - a Cabinet that looks like America, a Cabinet that taps into the best of America, a Cabinet that is opening doors and breaking down barriers and accessing the full range of talent ... in this nation,” Biden said as he puts forth what is shaping up to be the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history.

Appearing with Buttigieg in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said the 38-year-old would confront the task of restoring what he called “our crumbling roads, bridges and ports.” Biden has proposed a massive boost in infrastructure spending.

Buttigieg emerged from relative obscurity to mount a surprisingly robust campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination eventually won by Biden. A military veteran who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg is in the vanguard of the next generation of Democratic politicians and is widely seen as a future presidential contender.

“Americans shouldn’t settle for less than our peers in the developed world when it comes to our roads and bridges, our railways and transit systems. The U.S. should lead the way, and I know that in this administration we will,” Buttigieg said.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Julia Harte, Jarrett Renshaw and David Shepardson; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

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