SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah House has said about two dozen Utah legislative staffers were placed on the priority list to receive COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of other residents.
House Speaker Brad Wilson's chief of staff Abby Osborne said in a statement on Monday that legislative leaders worked with Republican Gov. Spencer Cox to reprioritize employees and the Utah Department of Health for distribution.
“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. “The staff members were not required to get the vaccine but were given the option and made a personal choice to get it.”
Osborne said 22 “essential legislative staffers” were inoculated because their duties were “deemed critical.” She did not identify which staffers received the vaccine or how many may have been under the age of 70.
“No lawmakers, including the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House, or their Chiefs of Staff were offered a vaccine,” the statement said.
Vaccine doses in Utah are currently allocated for residents 70 and older, health care workers, emergency services personnel, first responders, long-term care facility employees and residents, educators and school staff.
The next priority group is expected to begin March 1 and includes people 65 and older and people with some severe and chronic health conditions.
It is unclear when the staffers were given the vaccine, but it happened before the legislative session began Jan. 19.
Osborne argued the staffers were vaccinated because there are no qualified replacement personnel and that “simply losing one of these essential employees to sickness or quarantine would inevitably grind the lawmaking process to a halt.”
The governor's spokeswoman Jennifer Napier-Pearce said in a statement that Cox “told legislative leadership that as a co-equal branch of government they could make whatever decisions they wanted regarding the vaccine, but the executive branch would not be prioritizing any staff or public officials.”
The vaccinations were distributed in addition to other safety protocols, including twice-weekly testing and mandatory facial coverings on the House and Senate floor.