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The 2nd-highest-ranking House Republican just got his first vaccine dose as Mitch McConnell raises alarms about the Delta variant

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kevin Mccarthy and steve scalise walking through a hallway in the capitol
Kevin McCarthy, left, and Steve Scalise. Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Scalise revealed that he got his first COVID-19 vaccine dose on Sunday.

  • The House minority whip previously said he hadn't been vaccinated because he had COVID-19 antibodies.

  • Scalise called the vaccines "safe and effective" and cited the rapidly spreading Delta variant.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, the second-highest-ranking House Republican, revealed that he got his first COVID-19 vaccine dose on Sunday amid growing concern over the rapidly spreading Delta variant.

For months, Scalise told reporters he would get vaccinated "soon" but said he thought he had some immunity to the coronavirus because he had antibodies from what he believed was a mild infection.

This week, Scalise struck a different tone, calling the COVID-19 vaccines "safe and effective."

"Especially with the Delta variant becoming a lot more aggressive and seeing another spike, it was a good time to do it," he told Nola.com, according to a report that was published on Tuesday. "When you talk to people who run hospitals, in New Orleans or other states, 90% of people in hospital with delta variant have not been vaccinated. That's another signal the vaccine works."

The Delta variant, which is significantly more contagious and dangerous than other strains of the virus, accounts for about 83% of all new COVID-19 cases in the US, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

"This is a dramatic increase" from early July, she said.

Unvaccinated people infected with the Delta variant are twice as likely to be hospitalized as those infected with the Alpha variant, another dominant strain. Experts say vaccinated people are largely protected against Delta. The Pfizer vaccine is 88 percent effective in protecting against the Delta variant, research has shown.

Scalise, for his part, said that he supported the US Food and Drug Administration's emergency-use authorizations for the COVID-19 vaccines.

"It was heavily tested on thousands of people before the FDA gave its approval," he told Nola.com. "Some people believe that it might have been rushed. That's not the case. I've been vocal about that for months. I know their process has high standards. The FDA approval process is probably the most respected in the world."

But, he argued, Americans shouldn't feel "shamed" into being vaccinated.

About 68.3% of US adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and about 59.5% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The New York Times. But vaccination rates vary widely across communities. Republican voters are much less likely than Democrats to be vaccinated and many red states, including Scalise's home state of Louisiana, have vaccination rates far below the national average.

Republican lawmakers have faced pressure to urge Americans to get vaccinated as cases spike in unvaccinated communities.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has recently stepped up his vaccination advocacy, warning that "we're going to be back in a situation in the fall ... that we were in last year" if more Americans aren't vaccinated as soon as possible. He also urged people to "ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice."

"There's no good reason not to get vaccinated. We need to finish the job," McConnell said earlier this month. "I know there's some skepticism out there, but let me put it his way: It may not guarantee you don't get it but it almost guarantees you don't die from it if you get it."

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