House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received Pfizer's Covid vaccine on Friday after the attending physician in Congress urged lawmakers to sign up.
The physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, cited federal guidelines designed to ensure the U.S. government functions during the pandemic.
Senior U.S. government officials have already started to receive the vaccine, with Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams getting the shot live on national television Friday morning.
The general public, however, is not expected to receive the vaccine for months as doses remain limited while Pfizer ramps up production. Moderna's vaccine could receive emergency authorization as soon as Friday. Congress is currently negotiating a Covid relief package that is expected to provide several billion dollars for vaccine distribution.
Monahan, who is also attending physician for the Supreme Court, said the National Security Council informed him that Congress, the court, and executive branch agencies will receive a small number of vaccine doses for essential personnel.
"My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine," Monahan told Congress in a letter Thursday. "The benefit far exceeds any small risk."
Monahan emphasized in his letter that "the small number of COVID19 vaccine doses we will be provided reflects a fraction of the first tranche of vaccines as it is distributed throughout the country." U.S. logistic plans during the first week of the vaccine rollout call for 2.9 million doses to go to sites across all 50 states.
Monahan administered the vaccine to Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday after the House speaker said she would follow the physician's instructions and receive the shot. In a press release Thursday, she called on President Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate manufacturing and ensure the fair distribution of the vaccine to as many Americans as soon as possible.
McConnell, a survivor of childhood polio, also received the shot Friday, calling the vaccine safe and effective. In a statement Thursday, the Kentucky Republican expressed concern that polling shows a quarter of U.S. adults are unsure if they will receive the vaccine when it becomes available.
"As a polio survivor, I know both the fear of a disease and the extraordinary promise of hope that vaccines bring," McConnell said. "I truly hope all Kentuckians and Americans will heed this advice and accept this safe and effective vaccine."
More than 100 members of Congress have either quarantined, tested positive or been exposed to someone with Covid, according to data from GovTrack. As the vaccine rolls out and members of Congress sign up for the shot, they still have not reached a deal on a Covid relief package that would include billions of dollars for distribution of the vaccine. Members of a CDC advisory panel have warned that state and local governments need more money to administer the vaccines.
The U.S. government and the 50 states are rationing distribution of the vaccine over several phases in accordance with guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the first phase, health-care workers on the front line and residents at long-term care facilities, where about 40% of Covid deaths have occurred, will receive the vaccine. A CDC advisory panel convenes on Sunday to set guidelines about who should receive the shot in the next phase of vaccinations.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the White House had planned to rapidly distribute the vaccine among West Wing staffers who are in close contact with the president. Trump, who caught the virus and was hospitalized for several days in October, announced hours after the Times report that he adjusted the plan and people working in the White House would receive the vaccine later in the program.
"I am not scheduled to take the vaccine, but look forward to doing so at the appropriate time," the president said in a Twitter post.
At least 52 people connected to Trump and the White House have contracted coronavirus in recent months as senior officials, including the president, flout CDC social-distancing guidelines.