WASHINGTON – President Bush isn't getting one. Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) isn't getting one.
But many members on Capitol Hill are reaching out for flu shots despite a major shortage that will leave the United States shy of about 45 million inoculations this year. Despite the deficit in influenza vaccines, the result of a contamination in the doses produced by British-owned Chiron Corp. (search), about 2,000 shots are available to members and staffers on Capitol Hill at no charge.
Most of those vaccinated do not fall into the traditionally high-risk categories of the very young and the very old, though some congressional members would qualify for the latter category. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (search) laid out guidelines threatening doctors with penalties if they give the serum out to lower-risk people before treating as many high-risk individuals as wish to be vaccinated.
But Dr. John F. Eisold, the House attending physician, said he considers all legislative members to be in the "high-risk" given the number of people they encounter on a daily basis. This being election season, many members are exposed to even more people than usual, either campaigning for their own re-election or stumping for other candidates.
"They meet with people every day," one staffer in the doctor's office told FOX News. "Think about it ... you could have 100 different countries represented on any given day on Capitol Hill. You have members meeting and shaking hands with foreign leaders ... and then you have them going home to their districts shaking hands with constituents ... which is why we have always encouraged members to get their flu shots."
But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., wrote Eisold and said he thinks the doctor's recommendation is wrong.
"Members of Congress should set an example for the American people in following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I don't believe that frequent contact with the public should make Members of Congress or their staff exceptions to the CDC guidelines," Van Hollen wrote.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., who did not get a flu shot before heading out Wednesday to campaign with vice presidential candidate John Edwards, said that only 2,000 people on Capitol Hill will be able to receive shots. Normally, that number is about 9,000. But he suggested the vaccines go elsewhere.
"If indeed we have ... extra vaccinations or an overthrow of reserve vaccinations on the Hill, perhaps we should donate them to clinics across the country, including in my district in Memphis and west Tennessee that frankly are running low for those populations of people, including seniors and pregnant women, who need it most," Ford said.
Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., said that he got a shot after recessing from the negotiations taking place over the intelligence reform bill conference. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who also was in those meetings, said he hadn't gotten one but may reconsider his decision.
"I haven't had a flu shot because I didn't see myself in the category of priorities. This is a way to declare that I'm younger than 65," joked Lieberman, 64. "But I'm going to talk to the Senate physician today."
In fact, the shortage of the vaccine has been used as a political tool in the presidential race and elsewhere. Out on the campaign trail on Tuesday, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry told Florida seniors that the administration's failure to foresee potential shortages shows their lack of preparedness for emergencies.
"If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, how are you going to protect them against bioterrorism? If you can't get flu vaccines to Americans, what kind of health care program are you running?" Kerry asked.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday, Bush tried to calm fears about flu-vaccine shortages that he said were caused by a "major manufacturing defect."
"I know there are some here who are worried about the flu season," Bush told supporters in a stadium at a baseball training camp. "I want to assure them that our government is doing everything to help older Americans and children get their shots despite the major manufacturing defect that caused this problem."
Ford said that it's not a matter of playing the blame game. "But someone needs to be held accountable for this. We need to hold that person accountable or those persons accountable at the appropriate time. In the meantime, we need to figure out how we provide the vaccinations to the populations that need it most," he said.
Bush said Tuesday that 4 million shots for children will be shipped in the coming weeks. Federal health officials said 2.6 million more shots will be available in January, the height of flu season. Between vaccines and antiviral drugs, enough medicine will be available to treat 100 million people this flu season, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said Tuesday.
FOX News' Julie Asher contributed to this report.