White House, Congress, judiciary prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines due to continuity-of-government protocols

Unclear how many doses will be provided to the Capitol

Top officials at the White House will be among those to receive vaccine priority. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Top officials at the White House will be among those to receive vaccine priority. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 13, 2020 at 7:43pm

Top officials at the White House and Capitol Hill and the judiciary will receive priority for vaccination against COVID-19 as part of continuity-of-government planning.

But how that will be accomplished, and who in Congress will get the vaccine, was an open question Sunday evening, with a Capitol official saying the Hill hasn’t been notified yet about how many doses will be made available.

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot confirmed Sunday that senior government officials, including those in all three branches, will be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” Ullyot said in a statement. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”

A senior administration official pointed to guidance under Presidential Policy Directive 40, which provides for parallel continuity-of-government actions in both the legislative and judicial branches when undertaken by the executive branch.

The official said that in this case, people essential to the continuity of government, including in Congress, should receive vaccine priority.

At the Capitol, the task of actually providing the vaccine would most likely fall to Attending Physician Brian Monahan and his staff. Last week, Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he had discussed the vaccine question with Monahan.

“I have not talked to any of the companies or to Warp Speed or to anybody else about that,” Blunt told reporters, referring to the project name for the government-private industry cooperative effort on vaccination. “I have talked to Monahan about it.”

Beyond the questions about which specific officials (both members and staff) may receive priority as part of the continuity of government, it’s also unclear how vaccines may be distributed to other Capitol complex personnel.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters last week there were ongoing discussions, even before the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

“Of course, many qualify in terms of the high-risk groups in terms of age,” Hoyer said. “But in addition to that, clearly, it is critical that we have the Congress in a condition where it can operate on a continuing basis given the challenges that confront us a great immediacy.”

“I think there will be many people at the Capitol who will meet the requirements of first responders and people with comorbidities and other things, and I think the more places you’re giving, making the vaccine available, where you have the capacity to deliver it, the quicker we get to where we ant to get,” Blunt said last week.

Under the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, much of the vaccine inventory (starting with vials of the Pfizer vaccine authorized for emergency use Friday) are being sent to the states for distribution to health care workers and other frontline personnel.

However, there are still questions about residency, since vaccines are supposed to be distributed based on population. Many essential workers at D.C. medical facilities, as well as on Capitol Hill, are residents of Maryland and Virginia. In addition, members of Congress, as well as many staffers, retain their residency in their home states even when spending substantial time in the nation’s capital.

Chris Cioffi and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.