Virginia Legislators Get Early Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

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Virginia legislators have been moved into vaccination Phase 1b, meaning some of them are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. That includes members of the House of Delegates, who are holding meetings virtually.

“As an elected official, you are in the group of ‘officials needed to maintain continuity of government’ (Phase 1b), and several areas of the state have entered Phase 1b of vaccinations,” Clerk of the House Suzette Denslow said in an email sent to the delegates on Sunday.

Local departments of health determine which vaccination phase they are in, and residents of that area then qualify, based on the phases. A number of northern Virginia regions are now in Phase 1b. While Phase 1a mostly focused on healthcare workers, 1b includes emergency response personnel, people 75 or older, teachers, mail carriers, and “Officials needed to maintain continuity of government,” according to a Virginia Department of Health brochure.

“This is an important step that will provide increased flexibility to health districts across the Commonwealth,” state Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a press release. “The Governor has made it very clear that the state should not be holding anyone back — if health districts are ready and able to begin Phase 1b vaccinations, they must be able to do so.”

“This effort is intended to boost public confidence in the vaccine, as members of the General Assembly take a more public-facing role in the upcoming weeks,” said Governor Ralph Northam’s spokesperson Alena Yarmosky according to VPM.

Virginia’s Senate is meeting in person starting Wednesday, but the Virginia House of Delegates will be largely virtual, although a few delegates have said they still plan to be present at the Capitol.  Vaccines aren’t the only benefit legislators get to enable them to participate in the sessions. Legislators earn a $210 per diem, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

During the summer, House members came under fire for accepting their per diems even though the special session was being held virtually. The Republican caucus declined to accept the per diem, and House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said in a letter that since they weren’t traveling, they didn’t need the per diem for travel expenses.

It isn’t until Phase 1c that people 65 or older or people with underlying health conditions get the vaccine.

“That’s not fair,” Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) said. “I don’t encourage anyone to get it, but if some people believe it would help them and want it, I would hope that legislators aren’t taking what’s available from those people.”

Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) said that there are some delegates who are in higher risk groups, and they do need the vaccine.

However, he said he himself is not in that group. “I don’t feel comfortable doing it until everyone’s grandparents have had a chance to get it,” he said. “Just because you’re an elected official doesn’t mean you should be put at the front of the line.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]

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