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After Rubio, other lawmakers get early vaccines, many ask why

Members of Congress have been offered COVID-19 vaccinations as part of continuity of government protocols. But that doesn’t stop some from accusing them of cutting in line.
Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
Committee Chairman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing to examine implementation of Title I of the CARES Act, Wednesday, June 10, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP) [ AL DRAGO | AP ]
Published Dec. 21, 2020
Updated Dec. 21, 2020

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and some of his fellow members in Congress are being criticized on social media after posting photos of themselves getting early doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

All members of Congress are being offered the vaccinations as part of protocols to ensure the “continuity of government operations,” according to the Associated Press. President-elect Joe Biden received his first dose Monday in front of cameras as part of an effort to promote the safety of getting the vaccines.

But with an extremely limited supply of approved vaccines forcing states to make careful decisions about who should be among the first to get vaccinated, photos of Rubio and other lawmakers getting their shots have gotten some blowback and accusations of cutting in line.

Rubio on Saturday posted a photo of himself in a T-shirt and ballcap with a health care worker administering a vaccine into his arm.

“I know I looked away from the needle. And yes, I know I need a tan. But I am so confident that the #Covid19 vaccine is safe & effective that I decided to take it myself,” he tweeted.

The post was meant to inspire confidence in the vaccine. But it received mixed reactions.

“Marco Rubio is a healthy 49 year old. He is not in a nursing home. He is not a health worker. He is not a first responder. He attends Superspreader events maskless. Today he got a COVID-19 vaccine,” tweeted Daniel Uhlfelder, a Santa Rosa Beach attorney who has sued to try to force Gov. Ron DeSantis to close beaches to prevent further spread of the virus.

Related: Suing DeSantis over refusal to close beaches not frivolous, lawyer says

Karamo Brown, one of the stars of Netflix’s Queer Eye, tweeted photos of Republicans Rubio, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Vice President Mike Pence getting COVID-19 vaccine shots and called them out for going before health care providers, teachers and other essential workers after “the last 8 months politicizing the coronavirus.”

Even Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida said members of Congress were cutting the line by getting vaccines now. “Leaders eat last; it’s one of the first lessons a soldier learns as early as basic training,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez extensively documented her experience getting vaccinated and answered questions about the process.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Sunday that, according to protocols for continuity of governance, there is a chance a vaccine would just be stored if a lawmaker opted not to take it, instead of given to someone else.

“There’s also a real risk in this age of misinfo of how it would be weaponized if leaders refused to take it en masse,” she tweeted.

Some of the anger and politicization over legislators’ access to vaccines is unsurprising given the politicization of the pandemic in general, said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“There’s anger all around. Many are angry that some members of government haven’t done more … or haven’t challenged, say, the president, when he’s put out false statements about COVID.”

Kates said it’s good to have different messengers promoting coronavirus vaccines to encourage different segments of people who may be hesitant to get it.

Florida State Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, retweeted Rubio’s post with a note: “My position affords wonderful health insurance. I am healthy, with no pre-existing conditions, and can generally control my environment. I should be the last person to get the vaccine.”

Reached by phone Monday, Pizzo said he understands the idea of encouraging people to get vaccinated, but said “we’re still trying to get enough supply for the absolute essential frontline workers.”

Some members of Congress — including Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar — have signaled they will wait to get the shots and that the doses should go to elderly Americans and frontline workers.

“Anytime you have a situation of scarcity, you’re going to have these complex questions,” said Karen Emmons, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Emmons said Americans are primed for the vaccine distribution process to be unfair, saying she’s heard comments from people assuming that athletes will get vaccinated before many Americans and that people with money or power would be able to jump the line.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will get the vaccine when others in his age and health demographic do.

That seems to also be the plan for the Florida Senate. Spokeswoman Katherine Betta said the Senate is working to figure out logistics of getting lawmakers vaccinated when it becomes available for members of their demographic. She noted that 40 percent of the state’s senators are aged 60 or older.

Times staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

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