Congressional lawmakers received some of the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine in the final weeks of 2020 as part of a plan to keep the gears of government turning.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, urged U.S. elected leaders to avail themselves of the shots as a matter of national security—and to lead by example.
But images of politicians getting some of the first stabs at immunity ahead of so many doctors and nurses prompted allegations about “cutting in line” and ignited debate over who gets priority in a vaccine rollout mired by scarcity and delays.
In Santa Clara County, where Latino communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus are seeing lower vaccination rates, local elected leaders are making a point of waiting their turn in the interest of equity.
To date, according to a survey by this news organization, none of San Jose’s 11 City Council members or five county supervisors have received the vaccine, which is now offered to anyone over the age of 65.
Though Supervisor Joe Simitian, who’s 68, meets the age eligibility for the vaccine, he said he’s going through the same process as anyone to schedule his doses. Fellow supervisors Cindy Chavez, Mike Wasserman, Susan Ellenberg and Otto Lee affirmed that they, too, have yet to get vaccinated.
The same holds true for San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and councilors Magdalena Carrasco, Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez, Sylvia Arenas, Dev Davis, Matt Mahan, Pam Foley, Maya Esparza and Dave Cohen.
Esparza, who represents ZIP codes with some of the highest coronavirus mortality rates, said she’s more focused on helping constituents get tested and vaccinated.
“San Jose has two-thirds of the county’s Covid cases,” the District 7 rep said in a phone call, “and it’s critical to our recovery as a city to make sure that we vaccinate those who are most vulnerable—particularly those in the East Side and our essential workers.”
Latinos comprise a quarter of the county’s population but more than half its Covid-19 infections—a disparity reflected throughout the state. Despite bearing the brunt of the pandemic, however, little more than 4 percent of the South Bay’s Latinx residents have been vaccinated. According to data provided by local health authorities, nearly 9 percent of the county’s white denizens have been inoculated.
County public health officials are tackling the disparity by launching pop-up clinics in heavily impacted neighborhoods and the rolling out the state’s largest Covid-19 vaccination sites at Levi’s Stadium. Local electeds, meanwhile, have been spreading word about vaccine availability through press conferences, on social media and by promoting the county’s multilingual public health campaign.
Liccardo, whose spokeswoman Rachel Davis said he’s waiting his turn to get vaccinated, took to Twitter earlier this week to steer people to a website where they can schedule a time to receive their own shots. “Our Latinx community members have suffered more than 51 percent of countywide Covid-19 infections, yet among our over-65 residents have received only 8 percent of the vaccinations,” he tweeted. “We must change this severe disparity—sign up elder, tios, abuelos, vecinos, y padres at sccfreevax.org.”
Foley’s chief of staff, Scott Hughes, said his boss is taking a similar tack, promoting the vaccine for others before going under the needle herself.
“While she is looking forward to receiving the shot,” he said, “she is content to wait in line along with everyone else in her demographic category.”
Mahan, in District 10, said he’s willing to bide his time as well.
“It’s important for more vulnerable members of our community to get their vaccines first,” he said. “In fact, I’m working with my team now to push the county to step up their outreach and distribution to the hardest-hit ZIP codes within San Jose.”
Arenas, the only one of her colleagues to have come down with the coronavirus, told San Jose Inside that even two months later she’s still battling the fallout: fatigue, heart flutters and insomnia. While she hasn’t been vaccinated, the District 8 councilwoman quipped, she at least has some “natural antibodies.”