“Top congressional leaders will receive the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days with dozens of lawmakers planning to quickly follow suit — an effort designed to maintain a continuity of government while also instilling public confidence in the shot.
The limited batch of doses, which is expected to soon arrive in the House and Senate and was first reported by POLITICO, marks a major development for lawmakers and frontline workers in a Capitol complex that has battled dozens of cases this year.
But the sudden announcement of vaccines stunned many lawmakers who had been kept in the dark about whether they would get doses at all. Now, members are preparing for their first doses in what’s expected to be the final week in session of the 116th Congress.
Vaccines for federal agencies and officials across Washington have been arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center in recent days, and thousands of doses are expected to be designated for Congress.
Lawmakers first received word that vaccinations were imminent on the Hill in a letter sent by the Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, on Thursday evening, outlining some key details of how the vaccination process will work.
Members of Congress will receive top priority and are being encouraged to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to receive their vaccination, which will require two shots. The Office of the Attending Physician will then identify “continuity-essential staff members” who will be next in line — likely campus police officers and other essential workers who keep the Capitol running amid the pandemic.
“The appointing process will then continue until the small vaccine supply is exhausted,” Monahan wrote to members.
But as some lawmakers grapple with whether it’s fair to be among the first to receive the vaccine, Monahan was clear: “My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” he wrote. “The benefit far exceeds any small risk.”…
Congressional leaders are only just beginning to tackle the complicated task of allocating doses among hundreds of lawmakers and essential building workers…The arrival of the vaccine on Capitol Hill — where cases continue to climb — could force lawmakers into a tricky political and personal dilemma. Members will want to avoid any perception that high-ranking government officials are getting special treatment. Just 16 percent of the public thinks elected officials should be among the first in line for the vaccines, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll.
But many lawmakers also recognize that they and their colleagues are at high-risk because of the nature of their jobs, which requires traveling back and forth to Washington each week. And top congressional officials say taking the vaccine would also send an important signal to the American people that it’s safe.
“We do a lot, we see a lot of people, and we have to do business,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. “It’s a difficult job. … If the vaccine is there, I think we should take it.”
“I don’t want to break the line,” added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the minority whip, while also noting that lawmakers travel more frequently than most Americans. “And I think because of that vulnerability, it should be taken into consideration.”
Party leaders wrestled with concerns over optics earlier this year over implementing widespread coronavirus testing in the Capitol, which didn’t arrive in the building until last month…Yet Republicans continue to disparage House Democrats for holding virtual meetings and using proxy voting, a system designed to reduce physical interactions in the building.” (A)
“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy were among those with first dibs. Other members soon followed suit, saying it could inspire public confidence in the vaccine.
“Our job is to make sure the vaccine isn’t politicized the way masks were politicized,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said in a Twitter exchange after getting her vaccine.
McConnell, who was treated for polio as a child, repeatedly cites public opinion polls showing reticence among the public about the vaccine, and he emphasizes the importance of getting inoculated.
“It took decades to develop the polio vaccine. This vaccine was developed in under a year, a modern medical miracle, and we need to take the vaccine,” McConnell said in an interview on Fox News.
The efforts could also stem the flow of coronavirus cases linked to Congress, where more than 270 individuals — including 50 lawmakers — have become infected during the pandemic.
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx and California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass were among the first wave of members to get the vaccine.
“When public health officials say it’s your turn to get a vaccine, roll up your sleeves — I’ll be doing the same when my turn arrives,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was infected with the coronavirus this year, said on the Senate floor on Monday. “Getting immunized is the only way we’ll beat the virus and get back to the normal way of American life.”…
While members such as Ocasio-Cortez have said getting the vaccine will encourage others to follow suit, they’ve faced criticism from a smaller minority of colleagues such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a critic of mask mandates.
Paul, who was infected with the coronavirus early on during the pandemic, says younger members shouldn’t take part now, while those who have had COVID-19 should be “last in line.”
“I think it would be unconscionable for somebody who’s had it to get in front of somebody who hasn’t had it to take a vaccine,” Paul told a Capitol Hill pool reporter on Monday. “I think it’s unconscionable for [Ocasio-Cortez] … to be smiling gleefully and getting the vaccine when you got 85-year-old people in nursing homes who haven’t gotten it.”
Paul later tweeted his attack of Ocasio-Cortez, triggering a heated exchange.
Ocasio-Cortez responded that “maybe if the GOP hadn’t spent so much time undermining public faith” in science and mask usage for COVID-19, she wouldn’t have to weigh in on potential misinformation…” (B)
“Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle squabbled over whether to immediately get the COVID-19 vaccine, potentially before health care professionals and others.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., criticized fellow lawmakers for getting the vaccine ahead of vulnerable populations.
Omar wrote on Twitter on Sunday night: “It would makes sense if it was age, but unfortunately it’s of importance and its shameful.”
Lawmakers aren’t more important than front-line workers, teachers and others who are making sacrifices every day, she wrote. “Which is why I won’t take it. People who need it most, should get it. Full stop.”
Omar announced in June that her father died of complications related to the coronavirus…
Many members of Congress have been vaccinated, including older lawmakers such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are 80 and 78 years old, respectively, and thus at higher risk for complications related to the virus.
However, some younger lawmakers have also been vaccinated…
South Carolina Rep.-elect Nancy Mace, a Republican, wrote that “Congress shouldn’t be putting themselves first in line for the COVID-19 vaccination when the average American can’t get it.”
“For as long as the vaccines are limited, we should prioritize healthcare and frontline workers, and every person at greater risk, especially the elderly,” she continued.” (C)
“A slate of GOP lawmakers who downplayed different concerns about the coronavirus pandemic or ignored public health advice are now facing a wave of backlash for being among the first to receive a vaccine.
With only limited doses available across the US, members of Congress have been prioritized for inoculation in an effort to maintain governmental continuity on Capitol Hill. But some GOP lawmakers who have publicized their shots — something public health experts have recommended to advertise the vaccine’s safety — are fielding fierce disapproval given their past comments downplaying or misrepresenting the virus earlier this year.
This includes Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who tweeted Sunday that she had “received the first dose of the #COVID19 vaccine” at the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician.
“I encourage all Iowans and Americans to do the same when their time comes,” she said. “Thanks to #OperationWarpSpeed and the tireless work of Americans across the country, we are one step closer to defeating this virus.”
But her early vaccination drew swift condemnation on social media, with many pointing to comments she had made in September during her successful reelection campaign suggesting that health care workers were inflating Covid-19 death numbers for profit.
One viral tweet from Sawyer Hackett, a senior adviser to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, placed Ernst’s false comments under the caption “How it started” alongside her photo receiving the vaccine under the caption “how it’s going.”
The backlash underscores a larger rift unfolding in Congress about when to receive the vaccine. Some lawmakers in recent days have vowed to wait to get vaccinated until vulnerable groups in the US have a chance to get vaccinated as well.
Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard tweeted earlier Monday, “I had planned to get the vaccine but will now stand in solidarity with our seniors by not doing so until THEY can. I urge my colleagues who are under 65 and healthy to join me.”…
And many in Congress are considered vulnerable for Covid-19 complications because of their advanced ages.
Most Americans, however, won’t have access for months. While the US Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to two vaccines, it’s clear there will not be enough for everyone who wants a vaccination right away.
Vaccine advisers have already broken down priority groups into subgroups, and have designated only the very, very first people to get vaccines. Those in this 1a group designated by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices include front-line health care workers and people in long-term care homes.
The limited supply for those priority groups has helped fuel the scrutiny aimed at some of the GOP lawmakers who have received the vaccine.
Like Ernst, Sen. Lindsey Graham — a close ally of President Donald Trump who has often echoed the President’s misleading coronavirus messages — has faced considerable condemnation.
“Thank God for nurses who help people in need and know how to use a needle,” the South Carolina Republican tweeted on Saturday alongside a photo of himself receiving the vaccine…
Sen. Marco Rubio fielded particularly sharp rebukes after tweeting a photo of himself getting the vaccine and noting that he is “so confident” in it that he “decided to take it myself.” The Florida Republican, who is 49 years old, spoke at a largely maskless rally for the Georgia US Senate contests last month.
CNN political commentator Ana Navarro took particular issue with Rubio joking on Twitter that he “looked away from the needle” and knows that he needs “a tan.”
“Something that really pissed me off — triggered me of that post, was, you know, he started by making a joke about how he looked away from the needle and how he needed a tan in his arm. You’ve got privilege that others don’t. You are getting a precious vaccine that millions are waiting for,” she told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on “Newsroom.”
“There’s people risking their lives on a daily basis that are not getting that vaccine yet, and you crack a joke about your pasty white arm? Really?”” (D)
“Lawmakers acknowledged that the timing wasn’t ideal for them to be receiving the vaccine before Congress had passed a long-stalled coronavirus relief package on Monday.
The package includes funding for national vaccine distribution, Paycheck Protection Program aid for small businesses, unemployment insurance, housing assistance and direct checks of up to $600 per eligible person.
“Well, it’s certainly embarrassing and discouraging that it’s taken us eight months since we passed the CARES Act to finally get relief,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “I mean, if you’re busy feeling really guilty about not helping the hundreds of millions of Americans who needed the help and then you’re going to go get the vaccine? But yeah, I think somebody that’s voted against all the packages should feel guilty right now.”
Beyer, 70, was among the first rank-and-file members of Congress to receive a vaccine on Friday. He reported no side effects and said he wanted to set an example for others.
“I really want to make sure we’re setting the right example. That we’re doing everything we can to encourage people to get the vaccine. First, for their health, and second, for the herd immunity of the country,” Beyer said.” (E)
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- A.Congress to receive first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, but uncertainty lingers, By MELANIE ZANONA, MARIANNE LEVINE and SARAH FERRIS, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/17/capitol-hill-first-coronavirus-vaccine-448008
- B.Congress Gets COVID-19 Vaccine, But Members Fight Over Who Should Have Priority, by CLAUDIA GRISALES,
(C) Lawmakers squabble over whether to get the coronavirus vaccine ahead of front-line workers, by Savannah Behrmann, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/12/22/covid-vaccine-lawmakers-argue-when-get-vaccinated/4013385001/
(D) Republican lawmakers who downplayed coronavirus concerns face backlash over early vaccinations, By Paul LeBlanc, https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/21/politics/vaccine-lawmakers-backlash/index.html
(E) Growing number of lawmakers decline early access to COVID-19 vaccine, BY CRISTINA MARCOS, https://thehill.com/homenews/house/531198-growing-number-of-lawmakers-decline-early-access-to-covid-19-vaccine