Teachers were among the essential workers who were supposed to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations about now — until Governor Jared Polis prioritized residents seventy and above, pushing inoculations for educators and others to March at the earliest.
But there are exceptions to the rule. The hundred Colorado lawmakers gathering for the 2021 session, which gets under way today, January 13, have been approved for immediate vaccination, too, no matter their age. And Westword has learned that access to vaccines extends to Capitol staffers — clerks, secretaries and the like. Moreover, many in this group are in their early twenties, a demographic whose fatality rate for the novel coronavirus is around .01 percent, Polis noted at a January 12 press conference.
That press conference focused on vaccinations, but neither Polis nor three health-care leaders who joined him mentioned inoculations for lawmakers or their staff; their focus was riveted on the seventy-and-up crowd, which accounts for 78 percent of COVID-19 fatalities in Colorado to date. But gubernatorial spokesperson Conor Cahill defends pushing legislators and their assistants to the front of the line.
"The legislature is very much a part of our COVID response, and the legislature’s ability to safely conduct the legislative session as soon as possible is necessary to our state’s successful COVID response and recovery," Cahill explains. "The United States Congress in Washington, D.C., was similarly offered the vaccine. Furthermore, in addition to being essential to the state’s COVID response, Dr. [Robert] Redfield, the director of the CDC, instructed the country's governors on December 22 to ensure continuity of state government in their vaccine planning. Following that instruction, many governors, including Governor Polis, adjusted their vaccine plans to do so."
Adds Cahill: "We cannot speak to which individuals at the legislature have gotten access to the vaccine, as the list of individuals was determined by bipartisan legislative leadership and organized by their nonpartisan staff."
Westword reached out to multiple members of the Capitol's legislative staff to ask how many employees beyond the 35 state senators and 65 state representatives are eligible to receive vaccines. Estimates one: "Dozens and dozens."
"Lawmakers' aides are not being vaccinated," says Jarrett Freedman, communications director for the Colorado House Majority Office. "The aide corps is not the same group of staffers as partisan and nonpartisan staff. Yes, many are in their twenties, but they are not getting the vaccine because they are being strongly encouraged to work from home and the vast majority on the Democratic side, at least, are not coming in."
Freedman acknowledges that "there are nonpartisan and partisan staff who are getting the vaccine. These people have direct daily contact with the public and the hundreds of lawmakers and staff who work here. They work in extremely confined environments with other staff and lawmakers, and they have to come into the building to do their jobs, which are essential for the operation of the legislature."
He adds: "I'd also point out that the number of teachers in Colorado is nearly 50,000. I think it's a very tough argument to make that they will be waiting longer because a few dozen staffers are starting to get their vaccine."
Teachers may see things differently.
This post has been updated to include comments from Colorado House Majority Office communications director Jarrett Freedman.
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