A New York state assemblyman plans to introduce legislation barring elected officials from getting a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of priority groups. It comes after various members of Congress have received the vaccine ahead of frontline workers and others.
Republican Hudson Valley Assemblyman Colin Schmitt of the 99th district says he will introduce the legislation soon.
“Listen, it’s not right for elected officials and politicians to put themselves ahead of first responders, frontline medical workers, teachers and vulnerable seniors in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine,” Schmitt says.
Recognizing that any legislative action is weeks away, he also wrote to Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker requesting they take immediate administrative action to institute the restriction in the state vaccine distribution plan.
“We need to have a stop on elected officials jumping the line, and it would just be done and done immediately. So we put that in the beginning of this week. We’re going to continue to follow up with the governor and Department of Health on that,” says Schmitt. “And I’m also encouraging local governments, counties, towns and their leadership to implement that at more local levels as well.”
A state Department of Health spokesman, in a statement, says, “As Governor Cuomo has repeatedly stated the first New Yorkers to receive the vaccine are high-risk hospital workers, nursing home residents and nursing home staff. DOH has received Assemblyman Schmitt’s letter, however, we do not comment on pending legislation.”
Governor Cuomo has also spoken of the importance of a vaccine public education campaign and ensuring there is public confidence. During a Monday briefing with reporters, Cuomo was asked when he would get vaccinated. Cuomo says he falls into the general population.
“I have a lot of people who just say to me when I walk around, well, if it’s so safe, why didn’t you take it, which is such a great New York attitude. If it’s so good, why don’t you do it. I had said I would take it as soon as the panel authorized it, and I’m willing to take it,” says Cuomo. “The flip side is I don’t want anyone saying well, you took the vaccine, and it should have gone to an essential worker. With New Yorkers, you can’t make anybody happy.”
Following the advice of public health officials, Congressman Antonio Delgado of New York’s 19th district received the Pfizer vaccine in Washington December 18. He says it is critical to take actions that bring communities closer to the end of this pandemic. His statement continues, “As I travel back and forth between home and Washington and then make my way all across the district engaging with constituents about the health and the safety of the vaccine, my goal is to build trust and faith in this treatment. Much like leaders from all walks of life, I hope to be an example and encourage our communities to be inoculated as soon as they are able. We have seen the impact of inconsistent leadership on important measures like mask wearing, and I believe it is critical to clear up any confusion there may be around the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”
While not specifically referring to Delgado, Schmitt, who recently attended the Operation Warp Speed Vaccine Summit at the White House, says it’s unconscionable to lead in this way.
“Listen, I’m a military guy, as you know, and there’s a principle in leadership where we call it ‘leaders eat last.’ And it was started with the principle that you should take care of everybody that you have leadership on before yourself,” Schmitt says. “So, if you’re a leader, everyone is more important than you. You should put their interests before yourself.”
Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, who is 71, also received the vaccine and told WAMC Tuesday why he did.
“Well, in my instance, I followed the superb advice of the attending House physician and the Centers for Disease Control,” says Neal.
Neal, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, says it’s important to build the public’s trust in the vaccine and lead by example.
“And we’re going to have a challenge trying to convince communities of color to take the vaccine,” Neal says. “So part of what we’re trying to do is to show the local people do it.”
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, whose father died from COVID-19, says elected officials should not jump the line.
“I will get the vaccine, but I will not get that vaccine ahead of people who are more critical, more important and more vulnerable than me,” says Molinaro. “I think that it is important that elected officials show a good example, but we’re not asking people, like Congressmembers, to wait six months. Frankly, they just needed to wait two or three weeks."
Democratic Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this week. In a statement, he says, “Decisions about vaccines should be made in accordance with the guidance and direction of our doctors and public health professionals, not politicians. Public figures using this crisis as an opportunity to score political points at the expense of our health and safety have been the single greatest impediment to our national response to this pandemic. We don’t need more politics in our public health, we need less.”
Democratic Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s 2nd District isn’t getting the vaccine right now, but he has a different reason: he recently recovered from COVID-19, giving him a window of immunity. He spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner:
“I am immune right now, and I talked to three doctors who I’m friends with or know this stuff, as well as the House physician, and they all confirmed that I’m really not in a place right this moment where I need to get the benefit of a vaccination,” Courtney says.
Meantime, Schmitt says he will soon announce a Senate sponsor for his legislation.