Rep. Sara Rasmussen

GUEST COMMENTARY: Legislators shouldn’t skip the line for COVID-19 vaccine

As members of the Alaska State Legislature, we are chosen by the people of Alaska, our friends, and neighbors, to go to Juneau and make the difficult decisions necessary for our state government to function properly. It can be easy to get caught up in the glamour of the process and fancy titles and power, but we are still ordinary Alaskans. We are members of our communities, who serve in a temporary role in making sure state government works for the people of Alaska. I was recently made aware of a letter submitted to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, or ACIP, by Alaska’s Legislative Leadership requesting that the Legislature and staff be considered “Essential Workers” and be prioritized into group 1b to receive the vaccine before many of our fellow Alaskans. I was disappointed to see this request. I do not support it, and I was never even asked to consider it before it was sent. The request by legislative leadership to move to the front of the line shows how out of touch they are with the people that they serve. Lawmakers are not elite, we are Alaskans just like our constituents, who have been elected to serve in an important role in state government. Some of our members and staff likely fall into higher risk categories, should they contract COVID-19. But these people should and will be prioritized by their risk factors, just like every other Alaskan. We should let the ACIP make their decisions based on science and reason, and each of us individually will be included in line for the vaccine as an Alaskan, not because we are legislators. For nearly a year, we have watched Alaskans adapt to working and going to school online, meeting each other outdoors or on videoconference. We have seen businesses be incredibly innovative and continue to serve their customers outdoors and online. The Legislature can also easily work online, and I cannot fathom a good reason why we would not do that to prioritize the health and safety of those at risk that legislative leadership are concerned about. We have asked Alaskans across the state to do it, there is no reason we cannot temporarily do it ourselves. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our way of life. Alaskans have lost their lives to this disease; families are grieving lost loved ones. Our economy has been decimated, people are out of work, Alaskans are losing their businesses. These heartbreaking stories are real. But there is hope on the horizon. With the arrival of the first doses of the vaccine and winter solstice now behind us, we can look forward to a slow return to normalcy as we head towards summer. But we still have a lot of work to do. We must ensure the health of the public, while working to rebuild our economy; they are both tremendously important and must be done simultaneously to the greatest extent possible. Alaskans are fiercely independent, but we also come together and look out for each other in times of need. That is what it means to be an Alaskan. Nearly 100 years ago, Alaskans came together in a time of great need. We all know the story of Balto, Leonard Seppala, and The Serum Run to Nome when a group of Alaskan mushers came together to get the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome in the middle of winter to save lives. That became known as The Great Race, the Iditarod, which we celebrate annually to this day. We have done it before, and we can do it again. Sara Rasmussen represents District 22 in Anchorage.
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