Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy

Lawmakers, like the rest of the country, are all eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. But President Biden’s speech to Congress last week looked like he was addressing a group that hadn’t gotten a single shot.

With a crowd a fraction of its usual size — and those present all socially distancing and wearing masks — the speech underscored how life on Capitol Hill has been slow to return to normal and how difficult it is to persuade holdouts to get immunized.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) estimated a day after the address that about 75 percent of House members have been vaccinated, a figure unchanged since March. Until more members get vaccinated, Pelosi said, the House won’t return to pre-pandemic operations.

Some lawmakers in both parties initially expressed discomfort in December with getting vaccinated before the shots were more widely available to the public. But now that all U.S. adults are eligible, the only known holdouts are those skeptical of the need.

At the same time, numerous Republicans have been pushing Democratic leaders in recent weeks to end the pandemic restrictions in the Capitol, even though some of them aren’t taking the steps recommended by public health experts to reach that point.

Among the holdouts: Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said he isn’t planning to get his vaccine after previously testing positive for the virus last year. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have voiced similar rationales for not getting vaccinated after positive tests in 2020.

The CDC recommends that people who previously tested positive for COVID-19 still get vaccinated as soon as they can.