Given the scarcity of Covid-19 vaccines, a federal advisory council recommends shooting shots first to health care workers who keep the country’s medical system running and long-term care residents most likely to die from the coronavirus.
Nowhere on the list of prioritized recipients are civil servants’ spouses.
But the first ladies of Kentucky and West Virginia; Republican Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence; Jill Biden, wife of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden; and Doug Emhoff, husband of elected Vice President Kamala Harris, were among the first Americans to make potentially life-saving recordings.
Kentucky has also vaccinated six former governors and four former first ladies, including the parents of current Democratic governor Andy Beshear.
Political spouses’ early vaccinations have sparked outrage on social media among several Twitter users saying You shouldn’t be able to stay ahead of doctors, nurses, and the elderly.
In most of the 29 states that responded to KHN requests from all 50 governor’s offices, high-level elected officials said they – and their spouses – will be vaccinated but have chosen to wait behind more vulnerable constituents. Some members of Congress from both parties said almost the same thing when they turned down early doses offered to keep the government going. These were not offered to their spouses.
Governors who received the shots along with their spouses and the vice president’s office said they wanted to set an example to residents, build trust, bridge ideological divisions and show that the vaccine is safe and effective.
But that’s a rationale some critics don’t buy.
“It looks more like lining up than securing trust. Politicians can get hospitals to give it to them under this illusion of confidence building. But it’s a facade, ”said Arthur Caplan, bioethics professor and founding director of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. “People might say, ‘Yes, typical rich people. You can’t trust them. ‘This undermines what they’re up to. “
Also, Caplan said, the public doesn’t trust politicians that much anyway, so vaccinating celebrities, religious leaders, or athletes would likely do more to increase confidence in the vaccine. Rock and roll king Elvis Presley received the polio vaccine in 1956 to win over those who were skeptical. The actions of the governors’ wives from this period are less remembered.
Dr. José Romero, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email to KHN that while his group provides an overview of the distribution of limited vaccine doses, “jurisdictions have the flexibility to do so to do what is appropriate for their population. “Kentucky and Texas officials noted that CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield encouraged governors to get the vaccine publicly.
Nobody mentioned medical reasons for their spouses to get vaccines; Hospitals generally don’t vaccinate the spouses of medical professionals who got the shot. (It is unclear whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus. Therefore, if an unvaccinated spouse is exposed, a vaccinated person may pass the virus on to their spouse or be quarantined.)
The office of West Virginia Governor Republican Jim Justice released pictures of him, his wife Cathy Justice and other officials receiving gunfire. He also showed off his own vaccination on YouTube.
Beshear’s Kentucky office also posted photos of him receiving the vaccine in December, the same day as his wife, Britainy Beshear and other state officials.
“There is no question that there is vaccine hesitation out there,” Beshear said at a coronavirus briefing on Monday, the day former Kentucky governors and their spouses were vaccinated. He was hinting at a future program that would involve faith leaders and others. “Validators are incredibly important in building that trust.”
His father, Democratic former Governor Steve Beshear, posted photos of his vaccination on his Facebook page and said he and wife Jane Beshear, along with other former Kentucky governors and their spouses, had partially shown up to give residents that show the vaccine is safe and encourages them to get it when it is available to them.
Kentucky is currently in the first phase of vaccine distribution, aimed at health care workers and residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities. Fewer than 15,000 of the 58,500 doses received for long-term care were given when the former governors and their spouses were vaccinated.
Tres Watson, a former Kentucky Republican Party communications director who was starting a political advisory firm, was skeptical of the intentions behind the event. He said it was apparently a PR campaign the governor could use to vaccinate his parents.
“I understand continuity of government, but first ladies have no part in government continuity,” he said. “You have to stick to the priorities. Once you start making exceptions, you run into problems. “
Officials from the Biden-Harris Transition Team and three other states that have vaccinated governors – Republican-led West Virginia and Texas and Democrat-led Kansas – either did not respond to KHN or did not answer questions about spouses. Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey received the vaccine and is divorced.
Politicians in other countries have taken the opposite path.
In Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson is focused on ensuring high priority groups such as health care workers, caregivers and residents are vaccinated, spokeswoman LaConda Watson said. “He and his wife will get the vaccination when it is their turn,” she said.
In Missouri, Republican Governor Mike Parson’s communications director, Kelli Jones, said in an email that he and the first lady intend to receive the vaccine. Like governors from Colorado, Nevada and other countries, they have both recovered from Covid-19, Jones said, and will “wait for their age bracket” under the state plan. Doctors also recommend vaccinations for people who have already had Covid.
Cissy Sanders, 52, an events manager who lives in Austin, Texas, said she understands why lawmakers need to get the vaccine. Her own governor, Republican Greg Abbott, received it on live television to instill confidence, said his spokeswoman Renae Eze, who would not address whether Abbott’s wife was vaccinated.
But Sanders said politicians’ spouses shouldn’t be vaccinated in front of nursing home residents like their 71-year-old mother. Sander’s mother received the vaccine in late December – according to the spouses of some officials – but she said far too many nursing home residents across America are still waiting.
“Why does a low risk group – that is, these spouses – go ahead of the highest risk group? Who makes these decisions? Who thinks this is a good, responsible and safe decision? ” She said. “Political spouses were not on the verge of the virus. Were nursing home residents. “
KHN Montana Correspondent Katheryn Houghton, California Healthline Correspondent Angela Hart, and KHN Correspondents Markian Hawryluk and JoNel Aleccia contributed to this report.
Contact Send us a story tip