Saturday, February 27, 2021

Setting an example or jumping vaccine queue? Rank-and-file lawmakers bashed in US

Some say rank-and-file politicians could step aside for others more needy such as healthcare professionals and the elderly.

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America’s political class are lining up to get the Covid-19 vaccine, taking the shot on television and social media as a way to build confidence among a sceptical public, but also raising the question: should all politicians really be given priority?

Americans have seen White House officials, big names of the Senate and House of Representatives, and state governors get their coronavirus shots – some after spending much of the year disputing whether Covid-19 was even a real healthcare crisis.

The injections delivered to top leadership such as president-elect Joe Biden, Vice-President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell send a message of confidence in the brand-new vaccines.

More importantly, keeping them healthy is seen as a national security issue.

But some say rank-and-file politicians could step aside for others more needy – over 20 million healthcare professionals, and millions of elderly in high-risk retirement homes, for example.

“Congress has literally done nothing these last eight months,” said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, where Covid-19 cases rocketed in December.

“Now they are cutting the line and getting the vaccine ahead of residents in Long Term Care, nurses, and essential workers who stock our shelves. It’s outrageous. And insulting.”

National security

Together the House and Senate only have 535 voting members, just a small fraction of the millions of vaccine doses being released this month.

The arguments for priority for the most senior politicians are undisputed. Biden, 78, is the next US president. Pence, 61, and then Pelosi, 80, are in line to succeed if President Donald Trump is incapacitated.

That’s also why the relatively young next vice-president, 56-year-old Kamala Harris, will get her Covid-19 shot next week.

McConnell, 78, meanwhile has to remain healthy to keep Congress running in case of a crisis, and his Senate number two, 87-year-old Republican Chuck Grassley, follows Pelosi in the line of presidential succession.

But for others the argument for moving to the head of the queue is less clear, while the sight of several politicians who have downplayed the pandemic receiving their shots has generated rancor from critics.

Among those lining up for their vaccination in Congress was Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who for months rejected warnings about the severity of the coronavirus and was often seen maskless in political rallies.

On Sunday she posted on Twitter a photograph of herself receiving the vaccine.

“Today, at the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the first dose of the #COVID19 vaccine,” she wrote.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, 65, also got one, even after refusing to be tested for coronavirus earlier this year ahead of a debate with his election opponent, critics pointed out.

Virtue signalling

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 31 a star of the younger generation in Congress, was put on the defensive after she received her vaccine injection on Friday.

She framed it as setting an example for the public, posting vaccine explainers and noting that if she declined, people would think she did not trust the vaccine.

“I’d never, ever ask you to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself,” she tweeted to constituents.

But for some, holding off has become an act of political virtue-signalling.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, 57, who declined a vaccine, took advantage to attack Ocasio-Cortez, known as “AOC”.

“It is inappropriate for me – who has already gotten the virus/has immunity – to get in front of elderly/healthcare workers,” he said.

“Same goes for AOC or any young healthy person. They should be among last, not first.”

“This is immoral and bad health policy,” Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, 39, said of the programme to inoculate everyone in Congress.

“I had planned to get the vaccine but will now stand in solidarity with our seniors by not doing so until THEY can,” she said.

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