Arizona congressional delegation mostly splits on party lines over COVID-19 vaccine




U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., receives his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 on Dec. 22. Photo from @RepGregStanton Twitter feed.

Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation are deciding largely along partisan lines whether to avail themselves of the early access they’re getting to the new COVID-19 vaccine.

Five of the seven Democrats representing Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have taken the vaccine, while at least two of the four Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation plan to wait until it will be available to then as non-members of Congress.

U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, along with House Reps. Ruben Gallego, Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton, have already gotten their first doses of the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, who recently went into quarantine for the second time due to possible coronavirus exposure, hasn’t yet received the vaccine, but will likely do so the first week of January, according to a spokeswoman.

On the other hand, Congressmen Paul Gosar, Raul Grijalva and David Schweikert say they’re waiting to get their vaccines until it would be available to them as non-members of Congress. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick wasn’t in Washington, D.C., to schedule a vaccination because she’s been working remotely and voting by proxy to avoid travel, and will instead get her shot once it’s available to her in Arizona, a spokeswoman said.

Gallego, Grijalva, Kelly, Kirkpatrick, O’Halleran, Sinema and Stanton are Democrats. Gosar, Lesko and Schweikert are Republicans.

It is unclear whether Republican Rep. Andy Biggs has received the vaccine. He and his spokesman refused to answer repeated questions about the issue. Biggs, who has been a fierce critic of restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, has not issued any statements or tweeted about whether he’s taken the vaccine or whether he plans to do so.

The National Security Council prioritized COVID-19 vaccinations for White House officials and members of Congress and the federal judiciary as part of its continuity-of-government plan, and doses of the vaccination were made available to them in mid-December. Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress’s attending physician, urged federal lawmakers to get the shots, writing to them, “there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine.”

The Office of the Attending Physician told lawmakers on Monday that two staffers for each member of the House of Representatives and Senate are now also eligible to receive the vaccine

Many officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have taken the first dose of the vaccine, as have scores of other members of Congress.

The Pfizer vaccine consists of two doses, taken 21 days apart.

Some members of Arizona’s delegation have publicized their decision. 

“To follow the continuity of government plan, I received the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine this weekend. The vaccine is safe and effective — and is the silver bullet to getting our economy bArizona’s congressional Democrats have ack on track,” Stanton tweeted on Dec. 22. 

Sinema posted a video to Twitter on Dec. 19, one day after she got her first dose, to promote vaccination and reassure people about the vaccine’s safety.

“My arm’s a little sore, just like with the flu vaccine, but I feel great. And my run today? Faster than yesterday’s. So I hope all of you will join me in getting the vaccine as soon as it’s available to you and your family,” Sinema said. 

Hannah Hurley, a spokeswoman for Sinema, said the senator believes she has a duty to lead by example. Sinema has embraced social distancing, face masks and other COVID-prevention measures, and took the vaccine in part to protect people around her, including staff, Capitol employees and the people she encounters at airports as she flies between Arizona and Washington, D.C., Hurley said.

Other members of Arizona’s delegation feel it would be inappropriate for them to take the vaccine now when it’s not available to most of the public at large.

Schweikert spokeswoman Grace White said the congressman will take the vaccine when it’s his “appropriate turn” under Arizona’s vaccination prioritization guidelines

Gosar took a similar position, saying he would not “jump ahead in line.”

“All vulnerable populations should be vaccinated first. There will be an orderly administration based on need and I will wait my turn. Being in Congress does not entitle me to preference. I am a regular American,” Gosar, who has been critical of many COVID-prevention measures and said concern over the pandemic has been overblown, said in a statement provided by his office.

Grijalva too said he’ll wait until the vaccine would be available to him as a non-member of Congress, though he believes it’s important for elected officials to take the vaccine and assure people that it’s safe. Grijalva tested positive for COVID during the summer. People who have already had the disease are believed to have immunity, though there are people who have been reinfected after an initial bout with the coronavirus.

“I will take it because I think it’s important to set the example. But I’m going to make sure that we’re not jumping ahead of anybody in line. When it’s available, it’s available,” Grijalva told the Arizona Mirror

Gov. Doug Ducey has taken a similar position. Ducey, who is not eligible under the federal continuity-of-government plan, said he wouldn’t take any opportunity to jump ahead in line. Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, was among the first people in the state to receive the vaccination.

According to a memo that Monahan issued to members of Congress on Dec. 17, lawmakers can’t arrange for their doses to be shipped to their home states due to the storage requirements for the vaccine. The vaccine must be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be stored for up to five days at 35-46 degrees after it’s been thawed.

It’s unclear what happens to vaccine doses that are unused by members of Congress. The Office of the Attending Physician did not respond to phone messages and emails from the Mirror

Some people have been critical of members of Congress who took advantage of their early access to the vaccine, especially members who are younger and healthier, and those who have been dismissive of the severity of the COVID pandemic and critical of prevention measures.

Arizona recently began administering its first doses of the COVID vaccine. Under state guidelines, health care workers and people in nursing homes or long-term care facilities are the first to receive the vaccine. Essential workers like law enforcement officers, teachers and child care providers, and, as of Tuesday, adults over 75 years of age come next, followed by people over 65 and other high-risk adults. Others will be covered in the second and third vaccination phases, which are expected to extend into the summer.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”