Congressional staff now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Congressional staff now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine
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A limited number of congressional staffers are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to a memo from Congress's in-house physician. 

The Office of the Attending Physician (OAP) said it is offering the vaccine to two staffers in the personal office of every House member and senator, plus four staffers in the offices of every committee chairperson and ranking member.

Members of Congress have been receiving their first doses of a vaccine against COVID-19 for the past two weeks. The doses were part of a limited batch that was made available specifically for Congress under "continuity of government" national security protocols.

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Officials serving in the executive branch and the Supreme Court, as well as other top government leaders including Vice President Pence and President-elect Joe Biden, are also getting doses, along with health care workers and nursing home residents across the nation in recent days.

But the number of available vaccines is extremely limited, and some members of Congress have publicly turned down the opportunity to be vaccinated. It is not clear what happens to the allocated doses if a member declines to be vaccinated, and the OAP has not responded to requests for clarification. 

In addition to staff, the new memo from Brian Monahan to all congressional offices says vaccines will be available for some "critical" employees of the House; people whose jobs are essential for "continuity of operations," require physical presence or are likely to involve in-person interactions. 

The memo did not specify who those critical employees are, stating only that they will be notified separately.

"Employees who occupy positions determined to make them eligible for the vaccine under these standards will be and/or have been notified of their status separately and provided with logistical information regarding the process for scheduling an appointment for the vaccination," the memo said.

Monahan's memo said that regardless of vaccine eligibility, all staff should continue exercising basic precautions like mask wearing, physical distancing and teleworking whenever possible.

The wider availability of a vaccine comes as COVID-19 has been spreading on Capitol Hill and throughout the country.

At least 42 members of the House and Senate have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, while several others have tested positive for antibodies or had presumed cases. About half of those cases have been since November alone.