Vaccinating the Queen
Not Your Average 94-Year-Old
The announcement from Buckingham Palace was short and succinct:
“The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have received Covid-19 vaccinations. The vaccinations were administered by a household doctor at Windsor Castle. The Queen decided to let it be known she had the vaccination to prevent further speculation”.
In any other circumstances, a 94-year-old woman getting a vaccine wouldn’t be newsworthy. However, this is not *just* a vaccine but *the* vaccine the whole world has been waiting for during the past year. Also, it is not *just* a 94-year-old woman, it is the Queen of the United Kingdom and one of the most influential women in the world.
Millions of people, mainly the elderly who are at-risk, were waiting to see whether the Queen will receive the vaccine, when will she receive it, and how will she feel after it. There aren’t many 90-plus-year-old international celebrities with this kind of influence. A ‘thumbs up’ from the Queen could prove essential with the public’s trust in the vaccines and greatly boost the vaccination campaign. On the other hand, god forbid, a problem could turn into a catastrophe.
This raises a few tricky dilemmas for the many PR experts advising the Queen and the royal family.
Question 1: To Tell or Not To Tell?
Considering the Queen is personally willing to take the vaccine, is it better to let the public know once she receives it, or withhold the information for a certain period / indefinitely?
On the one hand, by revealing the Queen’s vaccination to the public, the royal family controls the story. They could control the information that comes out, the information that doesn’t come out, and they could control the time of announcement and narrative.
On the other hand, once exposing the fact that the Queen received the vaccine, the public’s eye would be focused on the Queen more than ever. Every little cough, every headache could turn into a source of panic. There are certain advantages to not telling, or at least waiting until making sure the Queen is in good health.
At a very early stage is was made clear that the palace would publish a statement informing the public once the Queen gets the vaccine. It was said that the decision was made personally by the Queen in the hopes to counter anti-vaccination sentiment.
A win-win. The royal palace gets to control the story and also spins the announcement as an act of principle and leadership by her Majesty .
The palace decided to make the announcement on the same day the Queen received the vaccine. This was certainly backed by her doctor’s opinion and decided only after a few hours had passed after the injection. This is also the procedure with royal births. Waiting any longer raises the risk of the story being leaked and the palace losing control over it.
Question 2: How Does the Queen Tell the Nation?
Once the decision to reveal the Queen received the vaccine was made, a second question arises: How should the public be told? Some leaders decided to receive the injection on live TV. The royal family is no stranger to cameras, and even if live TV is going a bit too far, there is always the possibility of releasing a picture after the fact.
There’s no doubt that a visual confirmation would raise the exposure. Honestly, is there one media outlet in the world that wouldn’t publish a picture of the Queen with a needle in her arm? If the Queen decided that she wants to lead by example and counter anti-vax groups, what could be more powerful than a picture?
No photo or any other visual evidence of the Queen receiving the vaccine was released. This, in my opinion, symbolizes a theme that the Palace PR experts want to convey. A theme that would help them with future possible problems.
By not releasing any photos, the palace is actually saying that the vaccine was a personal, private, medical matter. All of the news reports following the palace’s statement highlighted the fact that the royal family does not normally disclose “private medical matters”.
This decision is helping to create the narrative that the Queen chose to waive her confidentiality and let the public know she got the vaccine in favor of the people she leads and in their benefit.
This narrative might also come in handy in case a snoopy reporter asks questions regarding information that the palace is not willing to expose. The line, ‘this is a personal medical matter’, will always be a solid answer to any unwanted inquires.
Question 3: Which Vaccine Should the Queen Get?
A much more complex question, with pros and cons to both options. The UK has started vaccinating with 2 different vaccines: The Pfizer vaccine started rolling out on December 8. The AstraZeneca vaccine was rolled out in the UK on January 4.
The Pfizer vaccine uses a relatively new process of mRNA and, according to trials, has 95% efficacy. The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a more traditional method but has an approximate efficiency of 70%. The Pfizer vaccine was developed by the German company BioNTech. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was developed in the UK, by Oxford University.
And hence the dilemma. Should the Queen receive a more efficient vaccine made abroad, or the less effective one that is being hailed as the ‘triumph of British science’?
The palace didn’t disclose which of the two vaccines was given to the Queen. It will, undoubtedly, cause the British press to go on a wild hunt after anyone who could shed some light on the matter. The decision to hold out of this information in the official announcement is clearly part of the whole ‘private, personal, medical matter’ narrative that the palace is working on.
I would bet (and it’s a complete guess) that the Queen received the British vaccine. I could only imagine the headlines exposing that the British monarch received the ‘competition’. The Queen received the vaccine in Windsor Castle, and the British vaccine is much easier to transfer there than Pfizer’s vaccine which needs to be kept at very low temperatures.
There’s always the possibility to ‘pass on the blame’. The UK residents receiving the vaccine can’t choose which one they’ll get. Although it’s hard to believe that a very detailed discussion wasn’t held by the highest senior officials regarding the Queen, the palace PR experts could always say that the type of vaccine given was solely a medical decision made by her Majesty’s doctor.
Question 4: When Should the Queen be Vaccinated?
I would presume few in the UK would have had a problem with the Queen getting the vaccine first, or at least very early on. She is 94 and of course was eligible even without her unique title. There would surely be, however, those who would blame the royal family for being privileged and taking care of themselves before middle-classed hard-working people who could not isolate themselves in palaces filled with servents.
This too poses a tricky dilemma. First of all, should the Queen be the first? Not only from a PR perspective but also medically speaking, might it be better to wait and see how others handle the two required doses of the vaccine before injecting one of the most popular women in the world?
On the other hand, there’s only a short period in which such a famous 94-year-old could wait and not receive the vaccine without people start asking questions. Anything that might seem like the Queen waiting for her subjects ‘to try the vaccine out for her’, could turn really badly for her reputation.
The palace stated early on that the Queen “would not get any preferential treatment”. This announcement is odd. The UK government decided that people over 80-years-old are first in line to receive the vaccine. The Queen didn’t need any special treatment to receive the vaccine earlier than others.
Also, the Queen eventually did receive preferential treatment. She had her private doctor giving her the vaccine in her home, or rather her castle. She didn’t have to go to the hospital, the clinic, nor she was part of the care-home vaccination campaign.
I would assume that the timing, days after UK residents started receiving the second Pfizer dose, and after AstraZeneca’s vaccine was approved and rolled out, is not a coincidence. This probably gave the Queen’s medical staff some valuable time to examine the vaccination campaign and also allowed the PR staff to maintain the notion that the Queen was just patiently waiting for her turn.
These are just some of the questions that I believe the royal PR advisors had to answer when planning the Queen’s vaccination and the announcement to the public. The British media would, as always, try to get as much information as possible. The palace, if need be, could as always, try and spin the news around.