House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leader McConnell get COVID-19 vaccine, the rest of Congress to follow
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were given the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday as part of an effort to convince Americans the shots are safe and effective.
"Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the COVID-19 vaccine," Pelosi said in a tweet. "As the vaccine is being distributed, we must all continue mask wearing, social distancing & other science-based steps to save lives & crush the virus."
Less than an hour later, McConnell followed with his own tweet announcing he has received his first dose of the vaccine. The Kentucky Republican pointed out that in addition to boosting confidence, members of Congress were being inoculated as part of a plan to ensure continuity of government.
"Just received the safe, effective COVID vaccine following continuity-of-government protocols. Vaccines are how we beat this virus," McConnell said.
"Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible," he added, referring to the ongoing negotiations over a new stimulus bill to help mitigate the pandemic's economic impact.
McConnell and Pelosi both said in separate statements on Thursday they were told by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Capitol physician, that the shots would soon be available to members of Congress and that they would not hesitate to take them.
"As a polio survivor, I know both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring. I truly hope all Kentuckians and Americans will heed this advice and accept this safe and effective vaccine," McConnell said.
Like Pelosi, McConnell stressed the importance of continuing to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measures to prevent the spread of the virus because there is not yet enough data to know if those who have been inoculated can still carry and transmit the virus.
“Even with a vaccine, I will continue following CDC guidelines by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing my hands frequently," McConnell said. "I would strongly encourage everyone to continue following these important guidelines. It is the only way we will defeat COVID-19 once and for all."
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McConnell noted a recent Associated Press poll that found only about half of the country is ready and willing to get vaccinated. About one quarter of the respondents were unsure and another quarter said they would flatly refuse to take it.
"It is concerning that half of Americans feel this way," McConnell said.
"All Americans should have full confidence in the vaccines," Pelosi said Thursday.
Experts estimate at least 70% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, or the point at which enough people are protected that the virus can be held in check.
In addition to boosting confidence in the vaccine, high-ranking government officials are at the front of the line for vaccinations to ensure that the federal government can function in the event of a national emergency.
The distribution plan for the federal government will follow a 2016 presidential directive that outlines which jobs are "national essential functions."
Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence received their vaccinations Friday. President Donald Trump, who survived a COVID-19 infection in October, has said he will get the vaccine though it is not clear when he will receive it.
President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden plan to get the vaccine on Monday in Delaware, incoming press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have said they plan to publicly receive the vaccine to help assuage concerns.
Monahan informed all members of Congress they are eligible for the vaccine in a letter urging them to make appointments with his office.
"Once we have completed the vaccination of the Members, we will follow a process to identify the continuity-essential staff members," Monahan said, adding that his office would continue with appointments “until the small vaccine supply is exhausted.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu and David Jackson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press