Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D, New York, makes a point during a debate against opponent Michelle Caruso-Cabrera ahead of New York’s June 23 primary, Wednesday, June 17, 2020, in the Bronx borough of New York. Kathy Willens/AP Photo

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Sen. Rand Paul feuded over whether members of Congress should receive a COVID-19 vaccine before healthcare workers and the elderly. 

Paul argued that it would be “inappropriate” to jump the line, while Ocasio-Cortez insisted that lawmakers need to set an example for Americans and help instill confidence about the safety of the vaccine.  

The government has made vaccines available to members of Congress in order to ensure continuity of government and protect national security.

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Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday defended her decision to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, argued that members of Congress shouldn’t be vaccinated before healthcare providers and elderly Americans. 

“It is inappropriate for me – who has already gotten the virus/has immunity – to get in front of elderly/healthcare workers,” Paul tweeted on Monday about his decision not to immediately get the vaccine. “Same goes for AOC or any young healthy person. They should be among last, not first.”

The federal government has made vaccines available to top government officials, including all members of Congress, in order to ensure continuity of government and protect national security. Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen were vaccinated last week, and President-elect Joe Biden received the vaccine on Monday. 

Ocasio-Cortez, who filmed herself receiving the vaccine last week, argued that she felt obligated to get the vaccine in part because of pervasive misinformation Republicans have helped spread about the virus and efforts to mitigate its spread. She insisted that lawmakers need to set an example for Americans and assuring the safety of the vaccine. 

“Maybe if the GOP hadn’t spent so much time undermining public faith in science, masks, & COVID itself, I wouldn’t have to weigh the potential misinfo consequences of what [would] happen if leaders urged [people] to take a new vaccine that we weren’t taking ourselves!” she tweeted in response to Paul’s message. 

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She added, “Our job is to make sure the vaccine isn’t politicized the way masks were politicized.”

But lawmakers’ position on having advanced access to the vaccine hasn’t split entirely along party lines. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota progressive who’s close with Ocasio-Cortez, announced on Sunday that she wouldn’t take a vaccine ahead of healthcare workers and the elderly. 

“We are not more important then frontline workers, teachers etc. who are making sacrifices everyday,” Omar tweeted. “Which is why I won’t take it. People who need it most, should get it. Full stop.”

Recent polling has found that as many as half of Americans either say they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine or are unsure about whether they would take it. Throughout the pandemic, misinformation about the virus and mitigation tactics, including mask-wearing, has gone viral online and been promoted by Republican lawmakers and activists, including President Donald Trump. While Trump has promoted the COVID-19 vaccine and attempted to take credit for its invention, the White House has not announced any plans for the president to receive the vaccine. 

Paul was the first senator to test positive for coronavirus in March at the onset of the pandemic. Since his recovery, Paul has neglected to follow public health guidelines such as social distancing and mask-wearing, misleadingly claiming that he is immune to the virus.

While Paul may have some immunity to the virus, there is not enough scientific evidence yet to determine how long it could last. There is also no concrete data to support that COVID-19 survivors cannot get reinfected and spread the disease again. 

Paul has also disputed messaging from public health officials, including top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. The two sparred at a congressional hearing in September when Paul falsely declared that New York City, a major hotspot in the spring, had reached “herd immunity,” which is when a population becomes immune to a disease. Confirmed cases are still rising in New York City, as well as across the country. 

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