Biden and DeSantis, take the vaccine. It’s about more than just you | Editorial
Being one of the first to take the vaccine is not favoritism. It’s good governance.
President-elect Joe Biden, left and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right.
President-elect Joe Biden, left and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right. [ AP | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 17, 2020

Sometimes, a vaccination is more than just a vaccination. Case in point: When leaders like President-elect Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis step up and get the shot. They get protected from COVID-19, but they also send a power message that the vaccine is safe and effective. The image of two prominent figures from opposite sides of the political spectrum happily getting vaccinated can coax their supporters to do the same. They have both said that they don’t want to unfairly jump to the front of the vaccine line. But the good done by both of them publicly getting vaccinated would far outweigh any downside.

Both Biden and DeSantis have been mum on when they actually intend to get vaccinated, though both have insisted that they will get the shots. DeSantis’ spokesman indicated that the governor will get the vaccine but “does not want to jump people in line.” He added that DeSantis “absolutely believes it’s safe and will encourage people to take it.” Biden indicated this week that Dr. Anthony Fauci wanted him to get the vaccine “sooner than later,” but said he wanted to “make sure we do it by the numbers.”

Neither politician wants to look like he is benefiting from favoritism by getting vaccinated early. But let’s be serious — the president-elect and the governor of the third largest state are essential workers. Any trolls so blinded by partisan politics to hold it against them wouldn’t vote for them anyway. The two men have little to lose politically, and so much could be gained from publicly getting vaccinated. Can there be a better display of support for the safety of a new vaccine than having the next leader of the most powerful country in the world bare his arm and get pricked?

Public confidence in the vaccine has gone up, but it’s still not where it needs to be. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released this month showed that 71 percent of respondents said they would “definitely or probably get a vaccine if it was determined to be safe by scientists and available for free.” That number is up from 63 percent in September, but it still leaves 27 percent of people who said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.

Biden taking the shot publicly would help reassure some reluctant Americans. But DeSantis getting the vaccine may move the needle even more, at least in Florida. He is a conservative governor in a state that voted for President Trump, who has sent mixed messages about the pandemic and the vaccine. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released this week showed that Republicans were more than four times as likely as Democrats to say they would never get the vaccine. DeSantis is an ardent Trump supporter, respected by many of the people hesitant to get vaccinated. His vocal support of the vaccine helps set the right tone. But images of him getting the shot could sway more of the skeptics.

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This vaccine should be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, if enough people feel sufficiently confident to get vaccinated. Biden and DeSantis can help with that. They will not convince everyone. But by getting vaccinated — soon and in public — they turn their words into action. They prove to anyone watching that they believe in the vaccine, the perfect message to send as the state and the nation try to control a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans. The country needs its leaders to be fully behind this public health effort. Biden and DeSantis, it’s time to roll up your sleeves.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.