Members of Congress will be able to get vaccinated for covid-19 in the first round of inoculations currently being rolled out by Pfizer and BioNTech, according to the physician to Congress and a new report from Reuters. Meanwhile, those same members of Congress are still debating whether to give Americans $600 each in a one-off payment they’re calling “stimulus,” as millions of Americans go hungry and the CDC’s federal moratorium on evictions expires in just a couple of weeks.
Dr. Brian Monahan, the official physician for the U.S. Congress, sent a letter to Congressional staff this week explaining that all members, “will be provided with a specific number of COVID-19 vaccine doses to meet long-standing requirements for continuity of government operations,” according to Reuters.
The decision was made in consultation with the White House National Security Council and the phrase “continuity of government operations” refers to the federal government’s ability to operate under any unforeseen disaster that would incapacitate or kill high-ranking members of the executive branch, like the President or Vice President. In the event that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are unable to fulfill their duties the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would become President.
While it’s completely logical that members of Congress would receive the vaccination early on, if only as a matter of national security, the appearance of preferential treatment isn’t going to be well received given the amount of needless suffering Americans have been enduring since the start of the pandemic.
The U.S. is the worst-hit country in the world, with over 17.2 million infections and 310,782 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Thursday alone saw 3,438 new American deaths, a new daily record, and over 241,000 new infections, with more than 114,000 people currently hospitalized according to the Covid Tracking Project. Some experts predict another 200,000 to 300,000 Americans could die of coronavirus before the country sees population-level benefits from the vaccine.
Members of Congress have thus far failed to pass a second round of emergency financial relief following the $2.2 trillion Cares Act, which was passed in late March and involved sending $1,200 checks to most Americans as well as other forms of relief like expanded unemployment insurance.
It’s clear that elderly people should be given priority for the vaccine since they’re the population most at risk of severe illness and death, and Congress is nothing if not old. A recent report from the New Yorker indicates that Diane Feinstein, the 87-year-old Congresswoman from California, has been experiencing significant cognitive issues while overseeing the nation’s business. But few Americans are likely to see people who work in Congress as “essential workers” who should be at the front of the line for the new vaccine after they’ve done so little to help desperate Americans who have largely been left to fend for themselves.
There has reportedly been movement on a new Congressional relief bill this week with Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledging to work through the weekend to get it done. (Here’s hoping they don’t overdo it and sprain their ankles on the Senate floor.) But even the paltry $600 that’s currently being discussed for all Americans is seen as too much by some Republican political operatives and their compatriots in the right-wing media who describe it as a hand-out that will make Americans dependent on government money.
“If these closures continue and the government gives these workers a check for a little while, they’re going to have checks for the rest of their life because there won’t be any bars and restaurants to go back to and work,” former U.S. Representative Sean Duffy and MTV reality TV star told Fox News on Thursday.
“We’re all going to be forced, or these workers are all going to be forced to be on the government dole forever, because they’re crushing these businesses that won’t come back,” Duffy continued.
“Maybe that’s the goal,” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade responded, apparently floating a conspiracy theory that U.S. politicians don’t want people to work long term.
“Maybe it is. That’s what they’re doing in China,” said Rachel-Campos Duffy, Sean’s wife and fellow former reality TV star for MTV.
China, for its part, has virtually eradicated spread of the coronavirus domestically and its economy is showing strong signs of rebounding. Some tourists are even vacationing in Wuhan, the former epicenter of the pandemic.
An estimated 50 million Americans are currently experiencing food insecurity and rates of homelessness are rising across the country. Many of those homeless and hungry Americans are children, an absolute travesty in the wealthiest nation on Earth. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, saw his wealth rise by over 59% since the start of the pandemic. Bezos is currently worth about $183 billion, an obscene amount of money for one person to control at any time n history, let alone during a historic health and financial crisis.
It didn’t have to be this way. All of this was a choice by the same political leaders who are now first in line to get the covid-19 vaccine. It didn’t fucking have to be this way.