Minnesota Democratic Official Blasts State GOP Legislative Leaders Suggesting Lawmakers Be Vaccinated Early

Michael Howard, a Democratic member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, released a statement on Friday, criticizing comments made by State Senator Paul Gazelka that people who work in the state capitol to be considered essential in terms of COVID vaccine distribution.

According to the Star Tribune, Gazelka made the statement, suggesting legislators and Capitol workers be considered essential, during a forum on Friday. He spoke about committees and how some met via Zoom or in-person as a hybrid, before speaking about vaccines.

"I'm encouraging the vaccines, as one of the priority groups, after elderly and some of our front-line workers that we think about the people that have to be essential at the Capitol," Gazelka said in the forum, shared by Minnesota Public Radio. "We'll see how that goes, but we want some form of a hybrid."

A spokeswoman for Gazelka told the Star Tribune that there were "no formal talks about any plan to vaccinate lawmakers."

In a statement received by Newsweek, Howard linked to the audio of Gazelka speaking about those in the capitol receiving priority on the vaccine.

"To the Republican leaders suggesting that legislators should have priority over other Minnesotans to receive life-saving vaccinations, I ask a simple question—have you no sense of decency? This brazen and selfish request is especially galling coming from legislators that have consistently minimized the seriousness of COVID-19, exacerbating a dangerous and highly contagious disease," Howard said.

Howard's statement continued, speaking about the workers that he felt should be prioritized.

"Instead of cutting in line, we need to work together to prioritize our health care workers who have risked their lives for months fighting on the front lines, the elderly, those with chronic health conditions, our teachers and child care workers who are working around the clock to care for kids, and the food and service workers who are keeping our communities fed through this crisis. To do otherwise would not only be an egregious lapse in integrity, but a flagrant violation of the public's trust," he said.

In a daily update on Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 5,084 new confirmed COVID cases. The state has seen over 331,000 cases and 3,759 deaths since March.

Other Minnesota lawmakers also weighed in during the forum, explaining how frontline workers should be given immediate attention. Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said that while he would "absolutely" take the vaccine, he said it was more important to get it to "those that need it" like people in nursing homes. He did mention a possible scenario where some members of the legislature could be vaccinated sooner.

"At some point if we need to vaccinate anybody in the legislature who is themselves high-risk or has someone high-risk living in their household-employees, whatever—if that helps us get back in person sooner, I would support that. That's not me necessarily. I live by myself, and I am not high risk, but I certainly want to make sure we can get back as soon as [possible]," Daudt said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent also spoke about not "being a vector" and having the legislature gather and then unintentionally spread COVID back to their own communities.

In an statement to Newsweek, Howard said that people across the state reached out to him to express anger at the suggestions by Gazelka and Daudt.

"I have received e-mails from across the state from Minnesotans who have been appalled that Sen. Gazelka and Rep. Daudt would have the nerve to suggest this. It's clearly struck a chord with folks who have sacrificed so much for the good of their fellow Minnesotans only to see their leaders reveal such selfishness," he said.

Newsweek reached out to Gazelka for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Flu Vaccine COVID Minnesota
A flu vaccine is administered at a walk-up Covid-19 testing site, November 24, 2020, in San Fernando, California, just northeast of the city of Los Angeles. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty