Yesterday, I examined the tortured logic used by a spokesman for the Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. John F. Eisold, to justify Eisold’s absurd recommendation that all 535 members of Congress receive flu shots—shortage or no shortage. It’s because they shake all those hands! Majority Leader Bill “Sawbones” Frist sent a Sept. 29 letter to his colleagues making the same argument, which, to be fair, predated the Oct. 5 announcement that Chiron Corp., a California-based drug manufacturer, would not produce any vaccine this flu season. But Frist, we now learn, made his office available for the vaccinations starting on Oct. 7, two days after Chiron’s announcement. Since the story first broke in the Washington Post, newspapers around the country have been canvassing their congressional delegations to find out who got their vaccinations after Oct. 5, and whether any of these people should have been excluded based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that the few available vaccines be reserved for people who are either ill or over the age of 65. (There are a few other privileged categories—children, pregnant women, etc.—but these mostly don’t apply.)
Frist says that every member of Congress who received a shot either fit the CDC guidelines or was following his or her own doctor’s recommendation. That’s probably true only in the tautological sense that Eisold is by job description doctor to every member of Congress. It certainly runs contrary to what newspapers around the country are finding as they poll their delegations. In general, most members of Congress did follow the CDC recommendations and, if ineligible, absented themselves. Others, however, ignored or were unaware of the CDC recommendations and strode brazenly into Frist’s flu-vaccine clinic (which, I can’t help imagining—I realize this is lurid fantasy—resembled a Limehouse opium den of the Edwardian era). Still others just couldn’t make up their minds. Sen. Joe Lieberman, in an exquisite self-parodying gesture, “initially said he wanted to get the shot, but later said he would wait,” according to Newsday’s Lolita C. Baldor.
Drawing on these various newspapers’ collective findings, we can begin to compile a congressional rogue’s gallery of vaccine hogs. All members cited below are younger than 65.
Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas,come on down!
” ‘The House doctor recommended that members get the flu shot because they would be in a position of carrying or passing along the virus,’ DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said. ‘Particularly in this season of (campaign) visits to nursing homes and senior centers, we can’t afford to take that risk.’ “
— John Frank, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 21
Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, come on down!
” ‘The physician said, “Come down and get it,” and he went down and got it,’ [Coryn’s spokesman, Don Stewart,] said.”
— Vincent Morris, New York Post, Oct. 21
Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, come on down!
“Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Beaumont, also was among those who got shots even though they didn’t meet vaccine candidate criteria suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, Rep. Charlie Gonzales, D-Texas, Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Texas, Rep. Rubin Hinojosa, D-Texas, and Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, come on down!
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., come on down!
“Sen. Barbara Boxer, 63, also got a flu shot, her spokeswoman said. Boxer is on a campaign bus tour outside of Bakersfield and not available for comment.”
— Mark Sherman, Associated Press, Oct. 21
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., come on down!
“‘The full extent of the shortage wasn’t known at the time Fitzgerald got his shot,’ Curry said.
“‘He feels badly,’ [spokesman Dan] Curry added. ‘He wouldn’t have gotten it had he known.’” — Dori Meinert, Copley News Service, Oct. 21
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, come on down!
” ‘He gets a flu shot every year,’ spokesman Steve Forde said. ‘He was following his doctor’s recommendation.’ “
—Malia Rulon, Associated Press, Oct. 20
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D.-Mo., come on down!
“Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay refused to answer, saying through a spokesman he considers the matter to be health-related and therefore personal.”
—Libby Quaid, Associated Press, Oct. 21
Readers are invited to submit the names of other members of Congress under the age of 65 and in good health who took up Dr. Eisold’s offer after Oct. 5. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org under the subject heading, “vaccine hogs.” No submissions will be considered if they lack a citation from a reliable source.