Why the Queen let it be known she’s had the COVID-19 vaccine

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When it comes to their personal health, members of the Royal Family generally keep as many details as they can private.

So, it was notable when Queen Elizabeth let it be known recently that she and Prince Philip have received the coronavirus vaccine.

At the time, the BBC reported, a source said the Queen “decided to let it be known to prevent further speculation.”

Beyond that, however, it seems likely there will be those — particularly within the ranks leading the U.K. efforts to fight COVID-19 — who will be quietly thankful the monarch and her husband gave such a public indication of support for the vaccine and the hope it holds for overcoming the coronavirus.

“The COVID vaccinations are a matter of national interest,” said Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris. “Clearly, there would have been discussions between the Queen and her advisers about making news of the vaccinations public.”

And it wasn’t just the Queen sending a public signal. Her grandson, Prince William, had her vaccination on his mind when he met virtually with health-care staff and volunteers earlier this week.

“My grandparents have had the vaccine, and I am very proud of them for doing that,” William said. “It is really important that everyone gets the vaccine when they are told to.”

The Queen’s decision to go public about receiving the shot is a “significant endorsement” of the U.K. vaccination program, Sky News royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills said in a report on the network’s website.

William’s comments will be considered “another big boost for those within the [National Health Service] and the government who want to push the public service message that having the vaccine is the right thing to do,” Mills said.

A few days after William’s comments, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was adding her own voice to the discussion, telling other health-care workers during a virtual chat how glad she is that her father has been vaccinated.

“He’s 89 years old, and I’m just so happy,” she said as she thanked the health-care staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

Prince William, bottom right, talks on a virtual call with National Health Service staff and volunteers. (Kensington Palace/The Associated Press)

Such statements could have a public effect, Harris suggested.  

“If there are people who are on the fence and are considering whether or not to get the vaccine, the fact that senior members of the Royal Family are either getting the vaccine themselves or encouraging others to do so … may well have a very positive impact.”

It’s not the first time the public has been told members of the Royal Family have received a vaccine — the Queen let it be known in the 1950s that her son, Prince Charles, and daughter, Princess Anne, had received the polio vaccine.

Harris also sees a wider European trend right now of monarchs sharing the news of their vaccinations, whether it is Queen Margrethe of Denmark or King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway. Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden went one step further, allowing a picture of himself receiving the vaccine to be made public.

“The great vaccination against COVID-19 is now underway around our country,” Carl Gustaf wrote in a statement. “It is my hope that everyone who has the opportunity to be vaccinated in these coming months chooses to do so so that together and as soon as possible we can get through this difficult time.”

In other difficult times, monarchs have also shown their support for vaccines.

Prince Charles, left, has shown support for COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the U.K., meeting with front-line health and care workers administering and receiving the vaccine during a visit to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Glouscestershire, England, on Dec. 17, 2020. (Chris Jackson/The Associated Press)

“There are parallels in some ways to the 18th century when there was some hesitancy about smallpox inoculation,” said Harris. “There were some very high-profile examples of members of European royal houses having themselves or their relatives or their children inoculated and thereby increasing public confidence in the vaccine.”

Caroline of Ansbach, wife of King George II, helped promote the efficacy of a smallpox inoculation, and in France, Marie Antoinette, the last queen before the French Revolution, had an ornamental wig known as a pouf à l’inoculation.

“It became a fashion trend to have these hairpieces to indicate that you and people in your family had been inoculated against smallpox,” said Harris.

An unprecedented resignation

Julie Payette, left, meets Queen Elizabeth during a private audience at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, ahead of Payette’s installation as Governor General in 2017. (The Associated Press)

Queen Elizabeth is nothing if not discreet when it comes to official matters, so it’s unlikely there will be any in-depth public comment from Buckingham Palace in the wake of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette’s unprecedented resignation in Ottawa on Thursday.

The Queen’s representative in Canada said Thursday she would leave her post after an external review found that she and her secretary presided over a toxic workplace environment.

Richard Wagner, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, will carry out the duties of the governor general on an interim basis. 

Buckingham Palace said in a short statement that the Queen “has been kept informed of developments” and Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said he had spoken with her about the resignation on Friday morning.

While it’s rare for a Canadian governor general to leave the post before the end of the designated term, a few have. But Payette is the first to do so under a cloud of controversy. 

Two governors general died while in office: John Buchan, also known as Lord Tweedsmuir, in 1940 and Georges Vanier in 1967. 

Camilla’s pandemic profile

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who is patron of several literacy-related charities, has launched a book club online. (Hugo Burnand/Clarence House)

As the pandemic pushed much of the Royal Family’s usual work online, it has also given them a chance to broaden their reach to people and places they might not otherwise have encountered.

And for one member of the Royal Family, the rising profile has been particularly notable.

“‘Technophobe’ Camilla clicks with Zoom and finds favour under COVID,” read a headline in the Guardian newspaper the other day.

The public focus on the Duchess of Cornwall comes after the launch of her book club a few days ago via Instagram, as she continued her efforts to promote reading.

“To me, reading is a great adventure. I’ve loved it since I was very small, and I’d love everybody else to enjoy it as much as I do. You can escape, and you can travel, and you can laugh and you can cry. There’s every type of emotion humans experience in a book,” she said in a video posted to Instagram for the launch.

Beyond the book club, however, Camilla has made numerous virtual appearances in support of her charitable patronages, guest-edited a BBC 5 radio show and even made a cameo appearance on the U.K. equivalent of Dancing with the Stars.

Her profile, the Guardian went on to note, “has never been higher.”

Through it all, she has also been showing a more personal side, particularly in connection with the pandemic and sharing her struggles with not being able to hug her grandchildren during lockdown or commenting on the experience of her husband, Prince Charles, recovering from the coronavirus.

“For [radio] listeners separated from loved ones or listeners who either themselves or [whose] loved ones have suffered from COVID-19 … Camilla was very much speaking with a great deal of empathy with their circumstances,” said Harris. 

Camilla’s rising profile is the continuation of a remarkable evolution in public perception.

“When Charles and Camilla married in 2005, there was a lot of skepticism about whether the public would accept Camilla as the royal consort,” said Harris. 

Camilla, with Beth, her Jack Russell terrier, unveils a plaque as they visit the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to open new kennels and thank the centre’s staff and supporters on Dec. 9, 2020 in Windsor, England. (Steve Parsons/Getty Images)

That skepticism was rooted in being seen as “the other woman” in Charles’s ultimately doomed marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales.

“Some of those feelings have been revived by the way the marriage has been dramatized in The Crown on Netflix in this past year, so that’s an issue that’s by no means gone away,” said Harris.

But skepticism has in ways faded as Camilla has taken on a wide range of patronages — everything from literacy to support of survivors of domestic violence — and people have had a chance to meet her.

“She’s attached herself to a very wide variety of causes and those who have met her personally have commented on how warm and approachable she is,” said Harris.

“It’s been a very gradual process, but Camilla has become a more and more popular figure.”

And maybe even The Crown, which faced controversy of its own recently over its blending of royal fact and fiction, is softening its image of Camilla.

In a scene from Season 4 of the Netflix drama The Crown, Emerald Fennell, left, who plays Camilla, is shown with Emma Corrin, who plays Diana, Princess of Wales. (Des Willie/Netflix)

“It dramatized the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s marriage, and the series is very sympathetic to Diana, but it’s interesting that by the end of Season 4, they try to make Camilla a sympathetic figure,” said Harris.

“She doesn’t want to be publicly embarrassed in the press and so the series actually depicts her as having a degree of self-awareness and makes Camilla a more in-depth figure.”

Royally quotable

“To hear their stories … when you’ve got tears dripping off your chin …. you can’t help but weep with them because they are so terrible, these stories. It really is heartbreaking, and I’ve gone to some very dark places, you know, internally. But I’m not living it, and therefore, if they can survive, if they can put one foot in front of the other, then for goodness sake, of course, I can.”    

— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, talks during an online session about meeting survivors of sexual violence in her work to support them.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Harry is reportedly heartbroken over his rift with the Royal Family, but he and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are happy with their move to California with their son, Archie. [CBC]

  2. Lawyers for Meghan have asked a British judge to settle her lawsuit against a newspaper before it goes to trial by ruling that its publication of a “deeply personal” letter to her estranged father was “a serious breach” of her privacy rights. [CBC]

  3. Prince Charles has launched a charter to promote sustainable practices among private-sector businesses. [The Independent]

  4. The Royal Windsor Horse Show, which has the Queen as a serious fan, is adopting a human rights policy. The move comes after accusations that the Bahraini royal family, which sponsors events at the show, has been using it to distract from rights abuses in its country. [The Guardian]

  5. After writing books for children, Sarah, Duchess of York, is turning to an adult genre. Sarah took to social media to announce the upcoming release of her novel, Her Heart for a Compass, for the Mills and Boon romance publishing house. The book, which Sarah says will draw on her own experiences, is a work of fiction based on the life of her great-great-aunt, Margaret Douglas Scott. [ITV]


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