Vaccines for federal agencies and officials across Washington have been arriving at Walter Reed Medical Center in recent days, and thousands of doses are expected to be designated for Congress.
Lawmakers first received word that vaccinations were imminent on the Hill in a letter sent by the Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, on Thursday evening, outlining some key details of how the vaccination process will work.
Members of Congress will receive top priority and are being encouraged to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to receive their vaccination, which will require two shots. The Office of the Attending Physician will then identify “continuity-essential staff members” who will be next in line — likely campus police officers and other essential workers who keep the Capitol running amid the pandemic.
“The appointing process will then continue until the small vaccine supply is exhausted,” Monahan wrote to members.
But as some lawmakers grapple with whether it’s fair to be among the first to receive the vaccine, Monahan was clear: “My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” he wrote. “The benefit far exceeds any small risk.”
Earlier Thursday, Monahan sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, informing him that Congress would be receiving a small tranche of coronavirus vaccines.
Both McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president, said Thursday they would take the vaccine in the coming days.
“With confidence in the vaccine and at the direction of the Attending Physician, I plan to receive the vaccine in the next few days,” Pelosi said, adding, “It is imperative that we ensure that the vaccine will be free and delivered in a fair, equitable manner to as many Americans as soon as possible.”
And McConnell, citing “government continuity requirements,” also said he would accept a recommendation from the Office of the Attending Physician to take the vaccine. McConnell, a childhood polio survivor, urged Americans to have faith in the vaccine.
Spouses and family members will not be eligible to receive a vaccine from the congressional supply, Monahan said. As for congressional staff, the letter was less clear.
Speculation had been rising in the Capitol this week as lawmakers — many of whom are older and at higher risk — await word of when they will receive vaccines as part of the nationwide effort. Many pointed to the efforts by federal officials to distribute vaccines to top government officials, with Vice President Mike Pence and President-elect Joe Biden set to receive vaccines within days.
Congressional leaders are only just beginning to tackle the complicated task of allocating doses among hundreds of lawmakers and essential building workers.
The rollout could be fraught with political challenges amid the nationwide scramble to divvy up a limited supply of vaccines in a fair way, while also encouraging public figures to take the vaccine as a show of confidence.
The lack of a Hill distribution up until this point had frustrated some members, who said they’d received zero guidance from leadership or the Capitol physician about when they would receive the first round of doses — let alone how many or who should get it first.
Some worried that Congress would drag its feet on a vaccination program like it did with implementing a widespread testing regime.
“I hope we don’t make the same mistake on vaccines that we made on testing, which is to wait until a number of people have needlessly had this … before we decide whether or not we’re going to deal with this,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership who chairs the Rules Committee.
During a closed-door briefing on “Operation Warp Speed” Thursday, the topic of how and when lawmakers would be vaccinated didn’t come up at all, according to one member who attended the session.
The arrival of the vaccine on Capitol Hill — where cases continue to climb — could force lawmakers into a tricky political and personal dilemma. Members will want to avoid any perception that high-ranking government officials are getting special treatment. Just 16 percent of the public thinks elected officials should be among the first in line for the vaccines, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll.
But many lawmakers also recognize that they and their colleagues are at high-risk because of the nature of their jobs, which requires traveling back and forth to Washington each week. And top congressional officials say taking the vaccine would also send an important signal to the American people that it’s safe.
“We do a lot, we see a lot of people, and we have to do business,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. “It’s a difficult job. … If the vaccine is there, I think we should take it.”
“I don’t want to break the line,” added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the minority whip, while also noting that lawmakers travel more frequently than most Americans. “And I think because of that vulnerability, it should be taken into consideration.”
Party leaders wrestled with concerns over optics earlier this year over implementing widespread coronavirus testing in the Capitol, which didn’t arrive in the building until last month.
Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, had been pressing Pelosi to unveil an action plan for vaccines before they arrive on Capitol Hill — particularly for front-line workers, which include police officers and custodians.
“Why in the world can’t [Pelosi] and her team begin to develop a vaccine plan for the essential workers that make the House operational?” Davis said. “It was a failure to not address testing when it became more available. … And if they follow the exact same process in regards to vaccinations, then yes, it will be a failure again until they’re forced to do it.”
Yet Republicans continue to disparage House Democrats for holding virtual meetings and using proxy voting, a system designed to reduce physical interactions in the building.
Many members are making it clear, however, that they will take the vaccine as soon as it’s offered to them.
“If they told me it was available two minutes from now down this hall, I’d go down and take it,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
“I’d take one right now. I’ll take two right now,” added Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) “I hear a lot of ‘I’m not gonna take it, because I don’t know what’s in it.’ And you know what I tell them? Do you eat hot dogs? You don’t know what’s in hot dogs, but you eat them. Take the vaccine.”
Heather Caygle and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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