House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated

House GOP leaders on Thursday expressed confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine's effectiveness against the virus but said it shouldn’t be mandated for Americans as cases surge in pockets of the U.S. 

The GOP Doctors Caucus, along with the conference leaders, avoided directly instructing Americans to get their COVID-19 shots at the press conference but did encourage hesitant Americans to discuss vaccines with their doctors and then come to a “personal decision.”

“We urge all Americans to talk to their doctors about the risks of COVID, talk to their doctors about the benefits of getting vaccinated and then come to a decision that's right for them about the vaccine,” Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisOvernight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated Acquiescing to Berlin, emboldening Moscow and squeezing Kyiv: Biden and Nordstream 2 MORE (R-Md.) said.

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The press conference comes as the delta variant sweeps through unvaccinated communities, filling hospitals in some places. States across the country have seen a rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but those suffering are almost all people who have not been vaccinated.

Those people also tend to be conservative and vote Republican, according to numerous polls. The states with the highest jumps in cases are largely states where majorities backed former President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE in the last election. 

As those statistics have risen, Republican office holders increasingly have been talking publicly about vaccines this week, as have a number of figures on Fox News. 

Harris, the first of the GOP doctors to speak, emphasized the COVID-19 vaccinations do “protect against symptomatic infection from the delta variant.”

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublican who went maskless now says coronavirus 'wants to kill us' Republican governors revolt against CDC mask guidance House to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance MORE (R-La.), who got his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine days ago amid concerns about the delta strain, said he “would encourage people to get the vaccine,” saying the caucus has “expressed confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.”

Another member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.), said all of the physicians present “want people vaccinated,” but as a medicine with potential side effects, the vaccine should not be mandated.

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“There's not one physician, there's not one doctor here that doesn't want people vaccinated,” he said.

But he added, “This should not come down from the government saying you have to have something because there can be some side effects.”

Sen. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallAdvancing T-cell testing can help parents can make informed decisions on COVID vaccinations House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated Rand Paul introducing measure to repeal public transportation mask mandates MORE (R-Kan.), a physician, said the spread of the delta strain presents “a great opportunity” to discuss “the risks and benefits of taking the vaccine.” 

“On the other hand, I think we can all take a deep breath, a sigh of relief that the science shows us there's no reason to panic over the delta variant,” he said, citing the vaccine’s effectiveness and the vaccination rates for adults and seniors.

He also noted that half of unvaccinated people are expected to have natural immunity from contracting the virus, although experts have recommended those who had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. 

Most of the Republicans’ prepared remarks centered on calling for an investigation into the COVID-19 origins and accusing China, Democrats, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.) and the media of covering up a laboratory leak. 

Experts initially dismissed the lab leak theory as unlikely before it has gained traction in recent weeks after The Wall Street Journal reported researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology developed flu-like symptoms in late 2019.

Days later, President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE instructed the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” in researching how the COVID-19 virus emerged, giving them 90 days from late May to report back.

When asked about why Republicans were focused on the lab leak more than the current surges, Harris countered, “You must not have been listening.”

“I opened the doctors’ part of this conference talking about the variant and the vaccine, talking about the support of the vaccine by the Doctors Caucus,” he said.

“We've all said, if you're at risk of this disease, talk to your physician, get the vaccine,” Harris said. “But as a country we have to investigate the origin very, very carefully, very, very accurately, because this might not be the last virus that comes out of China.”

Henry Connelly, a spokesperson for Pelosi, criticized the Republicans, saying it was “honestly tragic” that the GOP conference “just refuses to use their positions of trust and leadership to simply encourage folks to get vaccinated.”

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“If Republicans were really interested in this question, they'd know the Biden Admin is in the middle of a 90-day review of the intel on covid origins & @HouseIntel is doing its own Deep Dive,” he added in a tweet. “But they're not serious about the truth or about saving lives, so we get this instead.”