By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
The administration is coming under fire for deciding to make terrorism suspects held at the Navy's Guantánamo base priority subjects for the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and GOP policy groups on Capitol Hill are angered because the decision comes at a time when the public—and even congressional staffers—are having difficulty getting vaccinated.
The issue has taken several turns this week, with the White House yesterday saying the detainees won't be getting the shots. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "There is no vaccine in Guantánamo, and there's no vaccine on the way to Guantánamo." Pentagon subsequently said that the prisoners would be getting the shots but after soldiers and other military officials got theirs.
Some Hill staffers say the decision runs counter to the administration's blueprint on who should get the shot first: namely pregnant women, the young, caregivers and healthcare personnel, and people with certain conditions. Most of the detainees are not in the at-risk groups. Still, the military has said that supplying the vaccine is a humanitarian issue.
Even some Democratic staffers complained to Whispers that they can't get the vaccine being supplied to Congress because they don't fit into the priority groups. One Democratic congressman, Rep. Bart Stupak, protested to the Pentagon about giving the suspects flu shots when the supplies are so low that priority groups in the United States can't get them. "Until this shortage is addressed, I urge Pentagon officials to reconsider this decision to vaccinate terrorist detainees ahead of Americans who are waiting," Stupak said.
Outside groups also are raising concerns about the decision. A new coalition formed to fight healthcare reform legislation, "Patients First, A Project of Americans for Prosperity," said in a statement to Whispers that the administration's decision serves as an example that the government would mishandle healthcare if it takes over, as some fear. "Vaccinating Guantánamo detainees ahead of millions of at-risk Americans should serve as a serious warning about the federal government's ability to follow through on its healthcare reform promises," said Eric Novack, spokesman of Patients First. "The government has had more than six months to prepare for the H1N1 pandemic, and it's still completely unprepared to effectively manage this public-health crisis."