Congress will not return to pre-pandemic operations until hesitant members get vaccinated

The U.S. House of Representatives will not return to pre-pandemic operations until more members become vaccinated, Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared last week after President Joe Biden’s address to a truncated joint session, but hesitancy among remaining unvaccinated lawmakers is slowing things down.

Thus far, Pelosi (D-Calif.) said about 75 percent of members have been vaccinated, and that is largely unchanged from March, according to The Hill.

But that’s not high enough for the chamber to return to normalcy, Pelosi noted.

Members of Congress have been eligible to receive a COVID vaccine since December, and while some were hesitant to get a shot before they were more widely available to the general public, most did in the ensuing weeks.

That said, there remains a reluctance — and outright refusal — among some members, as well as the public, to getting vaccinated; The Hill noted that nationwide, about 20 percent of Americans have said they’ll not get one.

Even so, a growing number of Republicans are pushing the House leader to reopen the chamber to pre-pandemic operations and ditch all of the restrictions, even though they aren’t necessarily willing to take a vaccine.

One of them is Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), an MIT graduate and technology developer who said he isn’t getting a vaccine because he has had the disease and prior testing showed he retained COVID-19 antibodies — though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend that even those who have had the virus get vaccinated.

“The Pfizer and Moderna trials showed no benefit from the vaccine for those previously infected, so I will not be taking the vaccine,” Massie told The Hill.

Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul, a physician who also represents Kentucky, have used rationale similar to Massie for refusing to be vaccinated.

Johnson has gone so far as to question the whole-of-government approach pushing all Americans to get a vaccine, calling it “highly suspicious.”

After Biden addressed Congress last week, Massie asked why it was permissible for the president to shed his mask as he spoke, but no House members can do so.

“According to Nancy Pelosi’s rules, anyone in the House chamber without a mask, including and especially anyone at the podium, is fined $500 for not wearing a mask. So I guess we can ignore that rule now that the President isn’t following her ridiculous rule,” he tweeted.

Even some vaccine advocates, though, are raising questions about the appearance of having vaccinated people continuing to engage in COVID restrictions such as wearing a mask and socially distancing. They argue if the vaccines are effective as advertised, they have made recipients immune and thus negate the need for mandated behaviors.

Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and Baltimore’s former top health official made that case following Biden’s speech, saying that it would have been an opportunity to tout the efficacy of vaccines. Pelosi deemed the joint address “invitation only” and limited attendance to just 200 people in a chamber that holds about 1,100 people. She also required attendees to wear masks and to socially distance, though most, if not all attendees, had been vaccinated.

“I think that would have been another way of demonstrating confidence in the vaccines, as well as a path forward,” Wen said, adding that, at this point, it is wise to demonstrate how normalcy can be attained through vaccination.

“I actually think that it undermines the efficacy of the vaccines if people aren’t more proactive about resuming their lives in a very public way,” Wen said.

Current CDC guidelines say vaccinated people can gather indoors without masks or distancing.

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Jon Dougherty

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