State lawmakers and vaccines: Who got one, who hasn’t yet, and who won’t get one
A viewer asked News 3 Investigates to ask Wisconsin’s legislators whether they’d gotten the Covid-19 vaccine. We polled 130 members of the legislator (two seats are currently empty) over email and follow-up outreach to determine who planned to or had already gotten the vaccine; 60 lawmakers (40 Democrats, 20 Republicans) responded; 10 Democrats and 60 Republicans did not.
MADISON, Wis. — Many Republican and a few Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin’s legislature aren’t disclosing whether they’ve had or plan to get the Covid-19 vaccine, in response to questions emailed to 130 Assembly and Senate lawmakers over the past week.
60 lawmakers from both parties responded to questions about whether they’d received or planned to get the Covid-19 vaccine in the future, with the vast majority falling in age brackets below eligibility but saying they planned to get it once it was available. Very few of responding lawmakers, just six of those eligible by age, had received or scheduled the vaccine.
One of them was 68-year-old Rep. Don Vruwink (D-Milton), who’d just recently received his first shot.
“There’s some new variants coming out and the vaccine protects against it,” he said. “I think if you can get it, you should get it.”
Republican lawmakers have criticized the Evers administration over early delays in vaccine distribution when Wisconsin lagged behind others in the nation. Both sides of the legislature have passed laws impacting the vaccine rollout, including one signed into law by Gov. Evers allowing pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines, and another passed in the Senate that would keep the state’s prisoners from being prioritized outside of their age group.
The majority of legislators in both parties who responded to the request say they’re planning on getting the vaccine. Still, a few tell News 3 Investigates they may not get it at all. One lawmaker–Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc)–cited HIPAA as a reason not to respond to questions.
“I personally am not interested in getting the vaccine at this time,” Rep. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) said in an email. A longtime nurse practitioner, she is a newcomer in 2020 to the legislature. “Maybe in a year or two I will reconsider.”
Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said he might get it–but was in “no rush”. At 66, he’s currently eligible to get the shots. Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) and Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), both in their fifties, say they will not get the vaccine.
Most lawmakers not yet eligible
Just over 80% of the legislature is younger than 65; only a small handful of the twenty-five lawmakers who are 65 and over said they’d received the vaccine. Six out of the 11 in this category who responded said they’d either scheduled or already received their first dose; the others were still waiting for a scheduling. Senate minority leader Janet Bewley, 69, is still on a waiting list in Bayfield County for hers. Fourteen other lawmakers in the eligible age bracket didn’t respond.
Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), 70, plans to get one–but doesn’t have an appointment.
“I do look forward to getting vaccinated and will get the doses when it’s my turn, but I will not jump the line,” he said in an email.
Lawmakers aren’t eligible by their position for the vaccine (Gov. Evers, 69, was only recently vaccinated). But some have other jobs that could make them eligible sooner.
“I was offered the vaccination through the police department I work for. This was offered several weeks ago in January,” 48-year-old Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona) said in an email. He previously served as police chief for the Altoona Police Department before leaving to run for office. “I declined as I felt due to the shortage of vaccinations available they should go to the vulnerable and elderly populations first. I am not scheduled to get the vaccination and will wait until those who need to get it do so. “
Several lawmakers under 66 cited serious health conditions as reasons for why they were looking forward to a vaccine. Currently, health conditions for those under 65 aren’t a factor that prioritizes them for the vaccine. Sen. Melissa Agaard (D-Madison) noted she was a kidney donor and at heightened risk for Covid-19.
“We all have a part to play in this and I look forward to playing mine,” Assembly minority leader Rep. Gordon Hintz said, one of several Democrats in the legislature who has expressed frustration over some Republican colleagues who have refused to wear masks. “Legislative and government officials should be leading, should be demonstrating, should be standing up for science and the truth.”
Jumping the Line
While more than half of Wisconsin’s state lawmakers chose not to disclose their own vaccination status or plans, several legislators explicitly cited concerns about “jumping the line” on the vaccine. One cited Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry’s recent vaccination at 33 years old as a concerning example.
“My jaw hit the floor,” Milwaukee-area Rep. Daniel Riemer, 34, told News 3 Investigates when he heard the news about Lasry. Since the vaccination, which he says was luck and not related to his executive position with the Bucks, Lasry has announced his Democrat bid to run for the U.S. Senate.
Others say they want to make sure front-line workers get it first.
“I will not accept the COVID vaccine until every health care worker, teacher, first responder and Senior Citizen in the 5th Senate District has had their opportunity first,” Republican senator Dale Kooyenga tweeted in January.
Will get vaccine?
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