US Vice President Mike Pence receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the White House in Washington, US, December 18, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON – US Vice President Mike Pence received a COVID-19 shot on live television Friday as the country prepared to greenlight its second vaccine in a boost to the planet’s unprecedented immunization campaign.

Pence’s move — the most high-profile attempt yet at persuading the many vaccine-skeptic Americans — came as inoculation efforts unfurled worldwide in the race to halt a pandemic that has killed at least 1.66 million people and infected more than 74 million.

Yet in hard-hit Europe — which is yet to approve a vaccine — unease mounted after Slovakia’s 47-year-old Prime Minister Igor Matovic tested positive Friday for COVID-19 a week after attending an EU summit in Brussels.

The summit is believed to be where French President Emmanuel Macron caught the virus, an announcement a day earlier that led a host of European leaders and top French officials to rush into self-isolation.

Macron acknowledged Friday he had been “slowed down” by his infection, but insisted he was doing well and still actively involved in “priority” government business including Brexit.

Elsewhere, world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are also pledging to get public injections in order to boost faith in the vaccines.

“Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning,” Pence said after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech shot on the White House complex, with his wife and the country’s chief medical officer Jerome Adams.

“I didn’t feel a thing,” Pence said.

The event capped the US’s first week of a mass vaccination program with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot against a virus that has killed more than 310,000 Americans.

Another vaccine, made by Moderna, is now expected to become the second shot allowed in a Western country after a panel of US experts recommended emergency use approval.

President Donald Trump, who has systematically downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, was notably absent from Pence’s vaccination event.

But he has been eager to take credit for record-fast vaccine breakthroughs.

He sparked some confusion Friday by jumping the gun to declare Moderna approved, ahead of the final verdict from the Food and Drug Administration expected later in the day.

“Distribution to start immediately,” Trump tweeted.

AFP