GOP Reps Introduce Bill To Get Vaccines To Citizens First

By Sarah Betancourt
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Law360 (April 20, 2021, 7:04 PM EDT) -- The same day that adults in all 50 states became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, Republican legislators introduced a bill on Monday to prioritize U.S. citizens and green card holders for the shot over everyone else in the country.

U.S. Reps. Fred Keller and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said that the Saving Hypodermic injections and Offering vaccines to Taxpayers Swiftly, or SHOTS, Act would instruct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to "ensure that American citizens and lawful permanent residents are given priority to receive the COVID-19 vaccine over those visiting or who have entered the United States illegally."

"Americans have invested trillions in COVID-19 relief, which includes funds for vaccine development, distribution, and administration," Keller said in a statement to Law360. "While preventing community spread remains a priority, the current guidance for COVID-19 vaccines only serves to further incentivize individuals to break the law and enter the United States illegally, compounding the crisis at the southern border which the Biden administration has yet to address."

The bill would require the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the head of any other relevant agency to issue rules within 30 days of the bill's potential passing that would ban any immigrant not lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S. from being vaccinated until the date "all nationals of the U.S." seeking the vaccine and those with permanent residency have been fully vaccinated.

Keller's office didn't answer questions about whether constituents had complained about not being able to access vaccines ahead of immigrants.

President Joe Biden set a goal earlier this month to make the vaccine available to everyone over 16 years old in all 50 states and US territories by April 19, although the majority of states had already expanded eligibility to all adults prior to the deadline.

"In this eligibility, the Biden administration is welcoming illegal aliens to receive shots, per a statement released by the Department of Homeland Security in February, which would delay Americans and other taxpayers from accessing the vaccine," Keller said.

Representatives at DHS and the U.S. Health and Human Services did not return requests for comment. DHS in February had issued a statement saying it supports equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine and vaccination sites.

"DHS is committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one, regardless of their immigration status," the agency had said, adding that immigration enforcement actions would not be carried out at or near vaccine distribution sites and clinics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention additionally noted on its website that it is providing the vaccine "free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of their immigration or health insurance status."

A senior Democratic aide told Law360 that the House Democratic leadership is aware of the bill.

"Every vaccine administered gets us closer to the end of this pandemic," the aide said, declining to comment on the legislation further.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

--Editing by Steven Edelstone.

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