President Bush questioned yesterday whether members and employees of Congress should receive flu shots if they do not meet federal health guidelines designed to cope with a nationwide vaccine shortage.
"I think if they're able-bodied, I don't think they ought to," Bush said in an interview with Reuters aboard Air Force One. "I am not going to take the flu shot."
A Regional Scorecard|
Received flu shots:
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), age 68
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), 77
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), 78
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), 61
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), 58
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), 65
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), 67
Did not get shots:
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), 52
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), 71
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), 58
Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), 41
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), 53
Rep. Thomas M. DavisIII (R-Va.), 55
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.), 58
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), 52
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), 65
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), 59
Rep. Robert C."Bobby" Scott (D-Va.), 57
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), 45
Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), 53
Shadow Del. Ray Browne (D-D.C.), 65
Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis (R-Va.), 54
Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), 52
Rep. Virgil H. GoodeJr. (R-Va.), 58
Rep. Edward L. Schrock (R-Va.), 63
-- Eric M. Weiss
Nearly 2,000 lawmakers and staffers have received flu shots free of charge or the long waits that many Americans have endured. The inoculations were given by the office of the Capitol's attending physician, John F. Eisold, who has urged all lawmakers to be vaccinated -- even if they are not in high-risk groups -- because of their routine contact with children and older people.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised healthy people ages 2 to 64 to skip the flu shot this year to help ensure that those at greater risk can be vaccinated. The targeted populations for the flu vaccination include adults 65 or older, children 6 months to 23 months, women who will be pregnant during flu season, health care workers, and people with weakened immune systems, diabetes, kidney diseases or blood disorders.
A clinic began vaccinating senators and staffers in the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Oct. 7, two days after the government began urging that shots be reserved primarily for high-risk groups. But the event, one of several set up by Eisold around the Capitol, was organized before the guidelines were announced, according to Frist's aides.
Frist, 52, a physician whose staff said he received a flu shot before the shortage became known, had written a letter to all senators Sept. 29 urging them and their staffs to be vaccinated. While Frist did not write a follow-up letter after the guidelines were announced, the restrictions were explained to anyone who came to the clinic in Frist's office, and they "had to make their own determination" about whether to get a shot, an aide said.
Several members of Congress now say Capitol Hill has the wrong prescription for who should receive the shots. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose staff said she has not gotten a shot, yesterday asked Eisold to vaccinate only members and staff who meet CDC guidelines, and to donate leftover doses to the D.C. Department of Health.
"As communities nationwide struggle to meet the need for extra doses of the flu vaccine, members of Congress and their staffs should not be given special treatment," Pelosi, 64, wrote in a letter to Eisold. "We should follow the same CDC criteria as the rest of the country."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), 45, whose staff said he did not receive a flu shot, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), 67, whose staff said she did, wrote similar letters yesterday urging Eisold to limit shots to those who need them most.
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), 59, wrote to Eisold that "members of Congress who are not at risk should not receive the vaccine ahead of the general public who are part of the at-risk population," according to the Associated Press.
Norton said Eisold telephoned her yesterday. "He has indicated to me that they will only now give what remaining vaccine they have to people in the high-risk group," she said. Eisold also agreed to turn over any surplus vaccine to the D.C. Department of Health, Norton said.
Eisold's office did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.
Eisold said Tuesday that many congressional employees have voluntarily abided by the CDC guidelines. But people of all ages who are credentialed to work in the Capitol -- including staffers, police, journalists, construction workers and restaurant employees -- can receive shots merely by saying they meet CDC guidelines, with no additional questions asked, Eisold's spokesman has said.
The question of who received flu shots quickly moved from a public health issue to fodder for the presidential campaign. The campaign of Democrats John F. Kerry, 60, and John Edwards, 51, neither of whom has received a shot, criticized Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and Frist, all Republicans, for getting them.