Dave’s Capitol New Year’s Idea

Elected state officials and directly involved staff clearly qualify as priority candidates for vaccination as soon as possible

By Dave Skinner

Finally, a COVID vaccine has arrived in Montana! Merry Christmas, right? Multiple TV segments (in Bozeman, Billings, Missoula and Kalispell) showed shipments ceremoniously opened, with the magic sauce containers duly enthroned in each Community High Freezer.

Sorry, but this early Christmas present was a little underwhelming.

A tangible “light at the end of the tunnel” is welcome, but honestly, it’s still a flipping long tunnel. Consider since this pandemic began for real in March, we’ve seen over 732,000 tests done in nine months. That’s not everyone, and some were tested multiple times. Vaccinations take more time than a swab.

Keep in mind “our” magic sauce was only 975 first doses of two required. But Flathead County has over 100,000 citizens. Just over 8,100 Flatheaders have tested positive for the virus, about 8%, a fuzz higher than the state average of 7%. About 7,000 have recovered and 1,100 are sick, or active, now. That leaves 92,000 residents of this county who are in line – but don’t forget, those “recovered” are not known to be permanently immune, so they’re still in that loooooong line. If I feel a needle before June 2021, I’ll be surprised.

Sigh.

However, the line might shrink. Pfizer’s vaccine isn’t the only development line. It’s rational to expect additional vaccines that don’t require ultra-freezing, don’t require two doses, cost less, and are both safer and more effective – all flowing along multiple supply streams, faster, until life finally resembles “normal” – which will be a fundamentally new normal.

How long will that “normal” last? We might “conquer” COVID-19, but it might never, ever be objectively eradicated like smallpox, cornered in one last lab freezer. More likely, we’ll see maybe COVID-21, 23, and so on, maybe forever.

Will you be ready, again? At least you’ve got toilet paper, right?

For now, the line is moving, finally. Who goes first? Clearly, health care workers and others in close, confined environments, who have to get inside of six feet from viral patients rank first. Then comes those in close environments, not just hospitals or nursing homes, but jails, too. And to keep crooks off the street, why not court officials/bailiffs/jurors?

Next comes the vulnerable elderly, those “confined” first, working our way down through the comorbidities and age classes, then under 65 to front line private jobs.

But there’s another unique confined environment in Montana, where those who work within should be near the front of the vaccination line: Montana’s Capitol.

Montana’s Legislature meets only for 90 working days every two years. The 2021 session starts in two weeks. The agenda will be stuffed, mainly concerning budget fundamentals and essential tasks – I just hope the social-engineering frills are left for last or not at all.

I would suggest our elected officials, and their directly involved, face-to-face staff (plus perhaps appointed agency heads) clearly qualify as priority candidates for vaccination as soon as possible. About 500 carefully allocated doses should suffice.

Why? The business of the citizens of Montana, and those we elected to do that business and set the table for the next two years, is darn essential, best done face-to-face. Period. Vaccination will help Montana’s state government leaders focus better, and more safely, on the work at hand. Less fear means more brainpower applied to common sense.

But I’ll draw the line for “essential vaccinations” firmly above any paid lobbyists or agency staffers who are normally assigned to give “advisory testimony.”

Under normal conditions, Montana has a “people’s Legislature.” I’ve always taken little road trips down there for my two minutes of citizen glory. But my enjoyment, after groping through the usual badly timed blizzards, paying for my own gas, lousy food and crummy motel, has dampened somewhat as I’ve realized citizens like me are in a competition: Year after year, I see the same all-expenses-paid suits sitting on “their” spots on “their” benches in Lobbyist Alley session after session, on bill after bill. Same deal for state bureaucrats, brimming with wordy “advice” that is ill-disguised lobbying. To them I say, get in line with the rest of us.

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