House Republicans push vaccinations amid delta variant surge, Capitol Hill outbreak

House Republicans ramped up their calls on Thursday for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid a recent surge in the delta variant of the virus.

Members of the GOP Doctors Caucus were joined at a press conference by Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, who received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday.

“I would encourage people to get the vaccine,” Mr. Scalise said. “I have high confidence in it. I got it myself, sent the pictures out, but if someone has a hesitation, they ought to have that conversation with their doctor.”

Mr. Scalise said he waited out his decision to obtain the vaccine because he believed he had an immunity from the virus, after previously testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

The calls from House Republicans suggest a growing concern on Capitol Hill about a potential return of public-health guidelines, such as masking and social distancing which swept the country for a year and a half.

The Biden administration is also weighing whether to reinstate a mask recommendation for fully vaccinated individuals, though the White House is reportedly referring the decision to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’ve been down that road,” Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, said of the idea. “People who’ve had the vaccinations are very unlikely to have clinically significant disease even from the delta variant. I think until there is data showing that that is no longer operational, there should be no need to retrogress into a masked-up Congress or a masked-up state.”

On Monday, conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has been critical of the lockdowns prompted by the pandemic, urged his viewers to “take COVID seriously” and said it “absolutely makes sense” for many people to get vaccinated.

Recent exposure of the virus on Capitol Hill also had lawmakers concerned, after a group of about 50 Democratic state legislators from Texas fled to Washington in protest of a voting-rights bill being pushed by the Republican-led state legislature.

Since the state legislators’ arrival, a staffer in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office as well as a White House official tested positive for COVID-19, despite being vaccinated.

At least five of the legislators reportedly have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to Texas.

Rep. Ronny Jackson, Texas Republican and former White House doctor, criticized the state legislators who made the trip, encouraging the press to ask them questions about their vaccination status.

“I highly doubt that those six people were all vaccinated and tested positive for this virus,” Mr. Jackson said. “They stood right here and gave a brief and they spread it to the Speaker’s office, they spread it to the White House, and there’s literally nothing coming from the mainstream media about that.”

The GOP Doctors Caucus has long been sounding alarms on the need for people to get vaccinated, releasing several public-service announcements explaining why they chose to get the shot.

Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Iowa Republican, and Greg Murphy, North Carolina Republican, also pushed back on the suggestion that vaccine hesitation has been largely confined to Republicans and conservatives, citing their own medical experience on giving vaccinations.

“The patients that I see come from every race, every demographic who have not been vaccinated and that is their choice,” Mr. Murphy said. “So, to point out and say it’s just conservatives [who aren’t getting vaccinated] is not only disingenuous, it’s a lie.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also rejected the notion that Republicans have shifted in their messaging on vaccines, citing their support for Operation Warp Speed, a Trump-era public-private partnership that expedited development of the COVID-19 vaccine and other therapies.

The initiative, which was criticized by Trump opponents in its early stages, has received the praise of several top health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Biden White House.

“I don’t think we shifted in our tone,” Mr. McCarthy said at a press conference on Thursday. “I watched a number of Democrats in the House go to the microphones and criticize Operation Warp Speed. Think about what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Even Dr. Fauci said it was impossible to do that that quickly.”

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