Coronavirus vaccine: Should lawmakers have priority?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·5 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

As the first round of coronavirus vaccines begin to make their way across the United States, some of the country’s most prominent politicians have rolled up their sleeves to receive their first dose. Other lawmakers have made pointed statements about not taking it.

The sides of the debate defy typical partisan divides. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris got it. So did Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the face of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, talked her followers through the process while receiving the shot live on Instagram.

Those who have refused the shot also come from across the political spectrum. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a fellow member of “the Squad,” said it was “shameful” for young, healthy lawmakers to be vaccinated before frontline workers. GOP senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul said they will wait as well.

President Trump plans to take the vaccine, according to White House officials, but his doctors recommend waiting because he received certain treatments after being infected with the coronavirus in October.

Why there’s debate

Images of prominent lawmakers receiving the vaccine sparked backlash from those who argue the limited supply of the life-saving treatment should be reserved for people who face the most risk from the virus, like health care workers and the elderly. Particularly intense disapproval was aimed at Republicans like Rubio, Graham and Iowa Gov. Joni Ernst, whose critics say have made the health crisis more severe by consistently downplaying the risks of the virus.

Those who support giving politicians the vaccine cite two primary reasons. The first is the threat of a widespread outbreak in Congress of the executive branch, which could cripple the government’s ability to function at such a crucial time. “There is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” the attending physician to Congress wrote in a letter to lawmakers. Dozens of Congress members have been infected over the course of the pandemic. An incoming House member, Luke Letlow of Louisiana, died of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Others, including Ocasio-Cortez, say it’s important for lawmakers to show their constituents that the vaccine is safe to combat widespread vaccine skepticism that could hinder efforts to end the pandemic.

What’s next

Scrutiny over who has access to the vaccine will likely continue as long as supplies are short, a situation that could endure for many months.

Perspectives

Supporters

Seeing prominent figures be vaccinated can help reduce vaccine hesitancy

“I’m hopeful that people say ‘this senator got vaccinated, this congressman got vaccinated, and I may not trust the public health system but I trust them.’” — Health expert Utibe R. Essien to Associated Press

A large outbreak on Capitol Hill could grind the government to a halt at a crucial time

“If they were considered a priority to keep the country going, then they need to take the vaccine so they can be healthy and well to keep the country going.” — Infectious disease expert Simone Wildes to ABC News

The doses lawmakers are receiving are not being taken away from frontline workers

“Important to note that vaccines for members of Congress have already been set aside as part of the continuity of [government] procedures under Presidential Policy Directive 40, so passing on them does not free up shots for essential workers in the supply chain.” — Business Insider reporter Jake Lahut

Many of the country’s most important leaders are at elevated risk

“Members of Congress face a higher risk of virus exposure and of transmitting it to others due to their weekly travel from all over the country to congregate together in the Capitol and frequent interactions with constituents. Many lawmakers are also above the age of 65, making them at a higher risk of developing severe effects from COVID-19.” — Cristina Marcos, The Hill

Too much pushback from politicians could hurt the broader vaccination effort

“I’m fine if specific lawmakers want to wait for vaccines until demographically similar members of the public can get them. But I’m wary of messaging that suggests to the public *they* should decline an offered vaccine bc other people need it more. Guilt could just delay rollout.” — KCRW host Josh Barro

Critics

Vaccine doses should be reserved for the most vulnerable

“If you’re young like Omar or AOC, there’s no need for you to take the vaccine. Give this to the older people in America. The Congress and [Dr. Anthony] Fauci and others have said ‘follow the science.’ Well the science would dictate that the older people should get it first.” — Sean Duffy, Fox News

Politicians are poor messengers for fighting vaccine skepticism

“There are people of every race, age and political allegiance who have said they won’t take the coronavirus vaccine. … If U.S. leaders want to persuade those groups, they need to recruit their members to help in the effort rather than relying entirely on faraway celebrities to change minds.” — John Woodrow Cox, Washington Post

Republicans who downplayed the virus don’t deserve to access the vaccine first

“The very folks who downplayed the virus, partied maskless at the White House and called the coronavirus a hoax created to hurt President Trump are now getting the vaccine ahead of front-line and essential workers, and even the vulnerable residents in long-term-care facilities.” — Petula Dvorak, Washington Post

Hypocrisy will undermine public trust in the government’s virus response

“The actions of these [GOP] senators highlight why so many Americans dislike politicians. They are more than happy to ignore their public political stances if such flip-flopping benefits them personally. But it’s one thing when they’re switching sides on a bill; it’s quite another when their previous rhetoric likely contributed to illness and death.” — Dean Obeidallah, MSNBC

The idea that lawmakers need the vaccine to keep the government running is absurd

“Ensuring the health of denizens of the swamp in Washington, DC, has somehow been made a higher priority than protecting the safety of seniors and health-care workers because they are considered vital to the operation of the federal government. (Insert punchline here.)” — Andrea Peyser, New York Post

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images