Lawmakers can receive COVID-19 vaccine on Hill

McConnell, Pelosi said they will get the vaccine soon

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will soon get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will soon get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 17, 2020 at 7:45pm, Updated at 10:13pm

The Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician is scheduling appointments for lawmakers to receive COVID-19 vaccines, with select staff to follow.

“My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan said in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to House members and staff late Thursday. “The benefit far exceeds any small risk.”

Monahan said there was a limited supply of the vaccine and congressional spouses are not currently eligible because the Capitol is being provided with doses to ensure the continuity of government operations. Members are being encouraged to make appointments to get the vaccine — the one manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech — in the Rayburn Building.

“Once we have completed the vaccination of the Members, we will follow a process to identify the continuity-essential staff members in the various divisions of the Capitol community in the coming weeks,” Monahan wrote. “The appointing process will then continue until the small vaccine supply is exhausted. A second dose scheduling process will then begin later.”

Earlier Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would soon receive a COVID-19 vaccine, citing separate correspondence with Monahan that had similar language to the Dear Colleague letter.

“Because of government continuity requirements, I have been informed by the Office of the Attending Physician that I am eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, which I will accept in the coming days,” the Kentucky Republican, who is a polio survivor, said in a statement.

“Even with a vaccine, I will continue following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing my hands frequently. I would strongly encourage everyone to continue following these important guidelines,” the 78-year-old McConnell said. “It is the only way we will defeat COVID-19 once and for all.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said she would be getting the vaccine soon.

“With confidence in the vaccine and at the direction of the Attending Physician, I plan to receive the vaccine in the next few days,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “Even with a vaccine, I will continue to follow CDC guidelines by continuing to wear a mask and take other science-based steps to stop the spread of the virus.”

Vice President Mike Pence is expected to receive a vaccine on Friday. It is still unclear whether there is a vaccine allotment for this purpose, with only five federal departments and agencies having announced special supplies.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine development effort, has not answered questions from CQ Roll Call about the source of the continuity of government vaccines.

In a Thursday letter, Monahan informed McConnell of the limited vaccine availability, saying that he was notified by the National Security Council of the vaccine allotment. “The small number of COVID19 vaccine doses we will be provided reflects a fraction of the first tranche of vaccines as it is distributed throughout the country,” the attending physician wrote.

The office of Senate President Pro Tempore Charles E. Grassley, who is in the presidential line of succession, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the vaccine. The Iowa Republican tested positive for the virus last month, causing him to miss his first floor votes in decades, but he has since returned.

The National Security Council said in a Sunday statement that top officials in all three branches would be prioritized for vaccines to ensure the continuity of government. Until Thursday, it was unclear what that meant on Capitol Hill, and it remains a question for the federal judiciary.

The District of Columbia Department of Health has said the vaccine doses will not come from their allocation. The local government in Washington has been working with neighboring jurisdictions to make sure that residents of Maryland and Virginia who are front-line health care workers in D.C. are able to get vaccines.

“The District does not have the allotment for senior White House, Congressional and Judicial officials,” DC Health said in a statement.