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Some Utah legislative staffers got COVID-19 vaccine early

Utah State Senate
Posted at 2:43 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-08 16:55:41-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — The Utah State Legislature confirmed Monday that 22 staffers obtained the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of others.

READ: Plexiglass barriers being removed from Utah House chamber

In a statement, Utah House of Representatives Chief of Staff Abby Osborne confirmed the staffers were allowed to jump in line for the vaccine because their jobs are critical to the legislative process.

"A few days prior to the session, we had a conversation with the Governor about having a certain number of key employees whose roles are integral to the fundamental operation of the legislative process vaccinated," Osborne said in a statement to FOX 13.

"The necessary conditions working in the Legislature during our 45-day General Session are not easily amenable to contingency plans and place our employees in positions of high vulnerability to exposure from COVID-19. Several of our administrative and professional staff serve in positions, which not only require high amounts of direct interfacing with other members, interns, staff, and the public but also require them to be physically present in the office while the Legislature is in Session. Their jobs simply cannot be performed in a virtual setting. Additionally, given the relatively few full-time staffers in the Legislature, we do not have replacement personnel who are qualified, capable, or possess the institutional knowledge necessary to properly carry out the duties assigned. Simply losing one of these essential employees to sickness or quarantine would inevitably grind the lawmaking process to a halt."

House Speaker Brad Wilson, Senate President J. Stuart Adams and their chiefs of staff were not offered the vaccine, she said. Senate Chief of Staff Mark Thomas told FOX 13 that no legislators were offered the vaccine (though some have obtained it because they are over the age of 70 or are health care workers or teachers). Instead, he described them as security and staffers who keep the legislative bodies working.

Governor Spencer Cox signed off on the plan. Right now, COVID-19 vaccines are being offered to health care workers, K-12 teachers and those over the age of 70. It will soon switch to people over age 65 and those with co-morbidities. Utah, like other states, has experienced a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine.

"Given the unique challenges these employees face and the critical function each plays in allowing the Legislature to conduct its business during our annual Legislative Session, we respectfully requested that they be prioritized in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine," Osborne said.

In the Utah State Legislature, lawmakers, staffers and interns have been required to undergo regular COVID-19 rapid testing just off the House and Senate chamber floors. So far, the Utah State Capitol has avoided becoming a "super-spreader" event. It has been eight days since the last positive case.