To the surprise of no one, disputes have broken out about who should be given priority for vaccination against the Wuhan coronavirus. There are disputes within hospitals and among various types of health care workers. There is also a dispute about whether various public officials and politicians should jump ahead of health care workers who are at risk because of the work they do.
In general, I believe priority should go to these health care workers. I have no problem with top officials like Mike Pence getting priority. It won’t do for the U.S. vice president to be incapacitated. But once you get much below that level — to members of Congress not in the line of presidential succession, for example — this kind of rationale doesn’t apply.
On the other hand, I’m not angry that members of Congress are jumping ahead of health care workers. It would be seemly if they didn’t. However, a day or two of extra waiting for the vaccine, if that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t likely to cause serious harm to any health care worker who has avoided infection for the past nine months.
What really bothers me is when a member of Congress tries to justify jumping ahead on the theory that he or she is doing the public a service by showing faith in the vaccine’s safety. I doubt that anyone disinclined to get vaccinated will change his mind because Lindsey Graham volunteered for it.
Anyway, the argument is a phony one. Right now, members of the general public aren’t able to get the vaccine whether they want it or not, and they won’t be able to until health care workers are vaccinated. Thus, members of Congress will have the opportunity to demonstrate their faith in the vaccines to the masses after health care workers are taken care of.
Kevin Bishop, Graham’s flack, tried to defend his man this way:
Refuse the vaccine and be criticized for encouraging others to get it, yet you won’t go first. Take the vaccine early and face criticism for cutting in line.
Rubbish. No serious person will criticize a member of Congress for not getting vaccinated “first.” Republicans Rand Paul and Brian Mast and Democrats Tulsi Gabbard and Ilhan Omar are among those who, unlike Graham, declined to be vaccinated ahead of health care workers. I’m not aware of any of these members being ripped for their decision by anyone worth listening to.
In any case, the choice here is between a selfless decision and a selfish one. It won’t do to defend the selfish decision just because some might criticize the selfless course.
The Washington Post acknowledges that members of both political parties are jumping ahead of health care workers. Nonetheless, it tries to turn the story to its partisan advantage by claiming that some Republicans who jumped ahead have “minimized the pandemic.” But Post reporters Fenit Nirappil, Issac Stanley-Becker, and William Wan fail to identify anyone who minimized the pandemic but received the vaccine early.
They do name several politicians who haven’t always worn masks and one, Governor Abbott of Texas, who reopened his state in May. But disagreeing with the Post, and with Dr. Fauci, isn’t the same thing as minimizing the pandemic.
Anyone who takes the vaccine obviously thinks the pandemic is a serious matter. Why else get the shot? If that person hasn’t been wearing a mask, it’s because he doesn’t think masks prevent spread, not because he thinks the virus poses no health threat.
Similarly, it can’t reasonably be inferred from his decision to reopen Texas that Gov. Abbott didn’t take the pandemic seriously. Presumably, his decision was based on some combination of concern about the health and economic effects of a lengthy lockdown and skepticism about the efficacy of such lockdowns.
Deaths per capita from the virus in Texas are below the national average. If we want to punish governors for their responses to the virus, let’s start with Andrew Cuomo. Deaths per capital from the virus in New York are almost double the national average, and Cuomo’s irresponsible policies, most notably his policies regarding long-term care facilities, are partially to blame.
Here’s a better idea. Let’s not obsess over who is getting the vaccine when — at least not at this early date — and let’s not hunt for political advantage when members of both parties are conducting themselves in basically the same way.