Some Missouri state lawmakers received the initial doses of COVID vaccine Wednesday at an event that was intended for employees from Missouri’s Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation.
Ahead of Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State speech, Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate were seen entering and leaving the Capitol Plaza Hotel Wednesday afternoon where doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were being administered.
“I just feel incredibly grateful just based on the proximity to danger that we are in. It’s a huge relief,” said Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat from Kansas City, after she received a shot.
However, the doses at the hotel weren’t intended for the Missouri General Assembly.
Legislative staff and lawmakers arrived at the hotel after House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, sent an email shortly before noon.
“Vaccines are available at capitol plaza hotel for state employees. Must have employee ID,” the email read, which was first reported by the Columbia Missourian.
From there, word quickly got out.
“To clarify- all staff, including us, capitol plaza hotel. No appointment needed. Must have ID. The line is decently long but it’s moving fast,” Quade wrote in a text message to lawmakers that was shared with The Independent.
Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Democrat from Kansas City, said that after confirming lawmakers were included, she headed over to the hotel.
“We all flooding over here, especially because there’s a current breakout right now,” Manlove said.
But a little over an hour later, Dana Rademan Miller, the chief clerk and administrator for the Missouri House, sent out a notice informing representatives and staff that the event was not for them.
“A number of rumors have been circulating about COVID-19 vaccinations being administered locally,” Miller wrote. “The Department of Health and Senior Services has clarified that the vaccination event scheduled today was for Department of Public Safety and MoDOT employees who were within eligible tiers for the vaccine.”
Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, confirmed Wednesday that the event was not open to all state employees and was only for MoDOT and DPS employees who are eligible under Tier 1 of Phase 1B.
However, Cox later said that the event was opened Wednesday morning to other state employees, but only if they were eligible under the state’s current activated tiers, which include groups like frontline healthcare workers, first responders, those 65 years and older or with underlying health conditions.
Miller told lawmakers and staff in an email, a copy of which was obtained by The Independent, that the House has been working with DHSS to implement testing and vaccination plans, and would notify them when they are available for those eligible.
By the time Miller’s email was sent, it was too late.
Marc Powers, Quade’s chief of staff, said that their office had received calls Wednesday morning from state employees — who weren’t from DPS or MoDOT — and who had received shots and said they were being offered to all state employees.
“So, acting in good faith, a group of House folks went to check it out,” Powers said. “At no time were any legislative employees told they were ineligible, even though the paperwork required them to identify the agency they worked for. Senate and House members and staffers from both parties were in the line.”
Manlove said that while the General Assembly was not listed on paperwork, lawmakers could select a category designated as “Other.”
Unless they fall into one of the tiers already eligible, such as being 65 years and older or having certain underlying conditions, government officials aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated under Missouri’s distribution plan. Select government officials fall into Tier 3 of Phase 1B — which has not yet been activated.
“No one from our side had any intention of stepping out of turn, and we regret that happened,” Powers said. “But it was an honest misunderstanding resulting from confusion around the process.”
Aune said when she received Quade’s email, she assumed there was a special circumstance being made because of the number of positive cases in the Capitol.
The House was not in session last week due to a COVID outbreak among members, and on Friday Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, announced he had tested positive. Since, then two senators and a staff member have gone into quarantine.
Aune said just Wednesday morning lawmakers had been informed another member who had been on the floor that day had tested positive.
“I think that the assumption was that things have gotten worse and they’re trying to protect us,” Aune said. “Now we know that’s not the case. And of course, I have some guilt about that.”
Rep. Emily Weber, a Democrat from Kansas City who had also received her initial dose Wednesday, said it’s “a round robin” of COVID cases in the building.
“It just keeps coming,” Aune said of cases. “So I feel good about being protected now.”
Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, a Democrat from St. Louis, who also received a dose Wednesday said he planned on waiting to get a vaccine, “because I know a lot of people in my district don’t have the privilege or even have the resources to be able to get the vaccine.”
But ultimately, he said he decided to get the vaccine not only to be a voice for his district, but also so he could do his job.
“It’s really frustrating because my fellow colleagues will not take this pandemic seriously,” Aldridge said, later adding, “We know that wearing a mask, social distancing can prevent folks from getting COVID. And they voted it down.”
Today my legislative assistant and I received the COVID19 vaccine. For the last four weeks, since I have returned to the capital, I have feared for my family’s safety, my friend’s safety, and my safety. Since my Republican colleagues won’t take the proper actions to keep….(1/2) pic.twitter.com/1N70Lj0w9I
— Rep Rasheen Aldridge. Jr (@RepSheenBean) January 27, 2021
During debate on the House rules earlier this month, the chamber voted against requiring members to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance for controlling the coronavirus, including wearing masks.
At the Capitol Plaza Hotel Wednesday, signs directed state employees where to enter, and a mobile medical unit with a Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team was parked in the rear of the building. Aldridge said there was a long line that kept growing as they waited about 45 minutes until it was their turn.
Cody Leibbrand, a maintenance worker with MoDOT who was there to receive the vaccine, said that while everyone needs it, essential workers should be prioritized.
“We’re the ones out having to deal with the general public. And we’re out and about every day, all day long. We get exposed more than most. It is what it is,” Leibbrand said of lawmakers getting it potentially before they were supposed to. “I mean, there’s nothing we can really do about whether somebody gets in before us or not, but that’s just my opinion.”
Leibbrand said he had received a message from his supervisor who let employees know that if they wanted to be vaccinated, they could be added to a list. He said he was excited to receive the vaccine, but “I don’t know exactly how we got in so quick.”
Leibbrand, who works in Columbia, said workers were being shuffled down to Jefferson City to receive their first dose and then would return to Columbia “and go about our normal day.”
This story has been updated since it was first published.