Donald Trump's Delay to White House Vaccine Raises National Security Questions

President Donald Trump delayed plans to vaccinate his White House team, without explanation, only a short time after a National Security Council spokesman invoked a policy directive to stress the importance of protecting those at the top of government.

The delay raises questions about national security and the continuity of federal government operations at the highest level. Trump did say, however, that White House COVID-19 inoculations would be delayed "unless specifically necessary."

Since Trump returned to work in the Oval Office after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus in October, a number of staffers have fallen ill as the West Wing became a COVID-19 hotspot.

Last week, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani became the latest high-profile figure close to the president to announce they had caught the virus.

John Ullyot, National Security Council spokesman, said in a Sunday evening statement that top officials would be among the first to be inoculated against COVID, as the initial vaccine rollout gets underway.

Trump Playing Golf in Virginia on Sunday
US President Donald Trump climbs into golf cart number 45 as he golfs at Trump National Golf Club on December 13, 2020 in Sterling, Virginia. Early this morning, he tweeted an 'adjustment' to the plan to vaccinate White House staffers against COVID-19. Al Drago/Getty

In doing so, he cited the 2016 National Continuity Policy, a directive that "calls for providing [executive branch leadership] personnel with the appropriate resources to perform their prescribed continuity roles and responsibilities."

"Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy," Ullyot said before Trump tweeted about the delay.

Under the Obama-era policy directive, parts of which are classified, the Secretary of Homeland Security is instructed to "establish continuity program and planning requirements for executive departments and agencies."

The directive was cited in a Trump executive order just days ago, which stated: "It is the policy of the United States to maintain comprehensive and effective continuity programs that ensure national security and the preservation of government structure under the United States Constitution and in alignment with [the National Continuity Policy]."

Trump tweeted after Ullyot's announcement to say that "people working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary."

"I have asked that this adjustment be made. I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time," Trump wrote, without giving further detail on the who or why of any potential exemptions to this delay.

Ullyot is Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Communications at National Security Council, the president's "principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters."

It was not immediately clear why Trump announced a vaccine delay for White House staff. Newsweek has asked the White House and the National Security Council for comment.

The first shipments of the vaccine are set to arrive at 145 sites across the country on Monday following Trump's criticism of the Food and Drug Administration.

He said the body could have signed off the vaccine a week earlier—a claim the FDA denied, saying they were following the "science and data."

The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, found to be up to 95 percent effective, are intended for front-line medical workers and nursing home residents. But Ullyot also said it was important for top White House officials to be part of this initial rollout.

"The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership," Ullyot said.