House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) received the COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday after months of holding off, encouraging those who are hesitant to get vaccinated amid another growing wave of infections.
At the beginning of April, the Louisiana Republican had said he would get vaccinated “soon,” and gave the same answer a month later. Scalise finally got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this past weekend at a clinic in Jefferson Parish, according to NOLA.com.
“Especially with the delta variant becoming a lot more aggressive and seeing another spike, it was a good time to do it,” the No. 2 House Republican told the outlet in explaining why it took him so long to get vaccinated.
“When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in [the] hospital with [the] delta variant have not been vaccinated,” he continued. “That’s another signal the vaccine works.”
Scalise also said he waited partly because he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and believed he had existing immunity from what was likely a mild case of the virus.
While public health officials have said that antibodies from contracting the virus may provide some protection, they are not a replacement for the COVID-19 vaccine.
New COVID-19 cases have been rising substantially since May thanks to the extremely contagious delta variant. Cases have surged this month, with an average of 35,547 new cases as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of new cases are among the unvaccinated, prompting some areas of the country to reinstate public health measures to protect against the virus’ spread.
The Louisiana Department of Health reported on Monday that area hospitals have the most COVID-19 patients since February, when the deadly winter surge was starting to lessen. The state is seeing an average of 1,425 new cases per day, a stark increase from the average 903 cases per day just a week before.
Scalise told NOLA.com that the politics of getting vaccinated were not a factor in his decision. However, the staunch ally of former President Donald Trump has publicly supported conspiracy theories that undermine public health officials’ efforts to encourage vaccination, including the baseless accusation that leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci covered up the virus’ origin.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month, 86% of Democratic respondents said they had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 45% of Republican respondents. About 47% of Republican respondents said they aren’t likely to get vaccinated, compared to 6% of Democrats. Scalise said that while he would encourage people to get vaccinated, he does not believe it should be mandatory.
“It’s safe and effective,” Scalise said. “It was heavily tested on thousands of people before the FDA gave its approval. Some people believe that it might have been rushed. That’s not the case.”