WASHINGTON – Maryland voters might want to shield their babies from kissing politicians this fall — most members of the state’s congressional delegation will be hitting the campaign trail without their flu shots.
At least six of the state’s 10 members of Congress said they have turned down a chance for a free flu shot in light of a current national shortage of the vaccine.
The Capitol’s attending physician has strongly recommended that all members of Congress get flu shots, especially if they are shaking people’s hands and kissing babies on the campaign trail. The offer for quick and free flu vaccines also extends to the thousands of Capitol employees.
But most local congressmen have passed on the offer and asked their staffs to do the same, unless they fall into one of the categories of people who the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest should be vaccinated.
“The congressman has not gotten a flu shot, is not planning to get a flu shot and is not encouraging his staff to get a flu shot unless they are in the high-risk category,” said Marilyn Campbell, press secretary to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington.
The CDC states that priority should be given to children between 6 and 23 months old, adults 65 and older, nursing home residents, individuals with underlying chronic medical conditions, women who will be pregnant during flu season and health care workers involved in direct patient care.
Frederick Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, 78, and Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, 68, were needled by the Capitol physician’s office into getting their shots before the news of the shortage broke Oct. 5, their staffers said Wednesday. Both are old enough to be at risk, according to the CDC.
“When they have the supply, and the members stop by, they guilt them into it,” said Lisa Wright, Bartlett’s press secretary.
Mikulski sent a letter to attending physician John F. Eisold on Wednesday asking that any extra Capitol flu shots be sent to local public health departments for individuals at high risk of developing serious complications from the flu.
The only other Maryland congressmen who are old enough to justify a shot, under the CDC guidelines, are Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes, 71, and Mechanicsville Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, 65. But aides said Hoyer has not received a shot and Sarbanes does not intend to get one.
Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, 58, got vaccinated because his doctor advised him to, said spokeswoman Heather Moeder Molino. That is because the Cockeysville Democrat has asthma, a risk factor cited by the CDC for developing complications from the flu.
In addition to Van Hollen, other Maryland lawmakers who said they turned down shots because they do not fit risk factors include Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore; Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville; and Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
“We are hearing from a lot of our constituents who need them,” said Cathy Bassett, a spokeswoman for Gilchrest. “Hopefully, they’ll go to the neediest people.”
Aides to 61-year-old Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, did not return calls about the flu shots Wednesday.
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