Why leaders get shots firstPARK HYUN-YOUNG
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Are presidents and politicians cutting in line or setting an example by getting Covid-19 vaccines first? The controversy began in the United States as vaccination started in December 2020. Former U.S. President Donald Trump avoided inoculation, but then President-elect Joe Biden getting the shot was broadcast live. He said that he wanted to show people that they should be ready when their turn came and that there was nothing to worry about.
He set an example to soothe people’s fears and pursue herd immunity in the United States, where distrust on vaccines runs deep. Before Biden’s inoculation, only one-third of Americans wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but the number increased to 47 percent after the event, according to a Covid-19 vaccine monitor.
Israel is currently leading the vaccination rate, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first to get vaccinated. He said he asked to be the first to set an example and encourage people to get vaccinated. Israel began vaccinations on Dec. 20, when trust in effectiveness and safety of the Covid-19 vaccines was low due to the unprecedentedly short development period.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo not only got the vaccine early but also used China’s Sinovac vaccine, appealing to the public and China at the same time. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was vaccinated publicly and promoted being the first to start Pfizer vaccines in Asia. State leaders have different political backgrounds, but the biggest motivation for getting vaccines early is that it is the only way to return people’s lives to normal. It is an effort to reduce skepticism.
Skepticism is considerable in Korea, with 45.8 percent of people saying they will get vaccinated, while 45.7 percent want to wait and see, according to the Korea Society Opinion Institute on Feb. 22. The government is largely responsible for spreading fear by mentioning a possibility of vaccine failures such as side effects when criticism increased for the government’s failure to secure vaccines early on. When the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved, people aged 65 and older were included. Then it was changed to people under 65. The inconsistency helped spread distrust.
After a ruling party member described the idea of President Moon Jae-in getting vaccinated first as a “mockery and insult of the head of state,” it fanned skepticism. A countermeasure is urgent. Moon said that if distrust of vaccines elevates and if he needs to lead by example, he won’t avoid that responsibility. That time seems to have come.