UK PM Johnson might take COVID shot on TV, but won't jump queue - press secretary

·2-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson might be persuaded to take a COVID-19 vaccination on television to show it is safe but he would not have one before those in greater need, his press secretary said on Wednesday.

Johnson, 56, who spent time in intensive care earlier this year after contracting COVID-19, has hailed the UK approval of Pfizer Inc's vaccine as a global win and ray of hope amid a pandemic that has hurt the economy and upended normal life.

But, like other leaders, Johnson cannot be seen to be jumping the queue for the vaccine, ahead of more vulnerable people. However, he wants to illustrate its safety to try to persuade others to take it when it is more widely available.

Asked if the prime minister would take the shot live on television, press secretary Allegra Stratton said she had not asked him directly.

"I don't think it would be something he would rule out," she said. "But I think we also know that he wouldn't want to take a jab that should be for someone who is extremely vulnerable, clinically vulnerable and who should be getting it before him."

Johnson has said the shots would be voluntary, and a snap YouGov poll found that 20% of Britons were either not confident or not very confident that it was safe. There was support for the health minister Matt Hancock getting a shot live on TV, with 66% backing the idea.

Britain's government has said the health service will prioritise vaccinations, putting older residents in care homes and their carers first, then all those over 80 and frontline health workers.

Johnson has spoken openly of his struggle with COVID-19 in April, saying he fought for his life and that it was 50-50 whether the doctors were going to put him on a ventilator.

He said his weight was an underlying condition that made his condition worse and has since spoken frequently about his attempts to lose the pounds. Stratton said she did not know whether his weight might put him in a more vulnerable group, adding that he has been exercising more.

Johnson's spokesman also said it was a matter for Buckingham Palace whether 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth received a vaccination. A palace spokesman declined to comment on whether the queen would get a shot, saying royal medical matters were traditionally kept private.

The queen and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, who would be in the second priority tier for a vaccine, have spent national lockdowns this year with a small number of staff at Windsor Castle to the west of London.

They are planning to stay there over Christmas, rather than travelling to Sandringham in eastern England as they traditionally do.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Michael Holden; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)