Written by Frank E. Lockwood
Published by Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine on Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon, becoming the first member of the all-Republican Arkansas congressional delegation to do so.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro got a shot soon thereafter.
Barring last-minute scheduling changes, U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers will be inoculated this morning.
Womack received his shot in a health unit located in the Rayburn House Office Building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol.
“I’m pleased to see the first rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine distributed and administered throughout Arkansas and the nation this week,” he said in a written statement.
“Following the Attending Physician’s directive — and to show the safety and effectiveness to the American public — I have received the first dose of the vaccine. This will help protect others and fight the pandemic,” he said. The vaccine requires two shots.
Since March, more than 300,000 Americans have died due to covid-19. In Arkansas, the official death toll reached 3,112 Friday.
Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, had urged all representatives and senators to get vaccinated.
A steady stream of lawmakers passed through Monahan’s office Friday, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
In an interview, Crawford indicated he was following the doctor’s advice as well as White House recommendations.
“As far as the president was concerned, this was a priority for continuity of government,” he said.
The follow-up shot will be required in 21 days, Crawford said.
Getting vaccinated now, in his view, was the right thing to do.
“I had some reservations about it because I wanted to make sure that the people who really need it the most at home get it. It looks as though it’s happening and those vaccinations are starting to arrive and be administered in Arkansas. That’s my first concern,” he said.
The vaccine “gives us a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel” and Arkansans can take it “with a high degree of confidence,” he said.
“I think that there should be no hesitation or apprehension about receiving the vaccination,” he said.
Boozman said he recognizes that some people have doubts about the vaccine. As a health care professional — Boozman has been an optometrist for decades — he said he has confidence in the medical experts who have created the vaccine and approved its use.
“I would really encourage my fellow Arkansans to get the vaccine. This is the path that we can take to get back to normalcy,” he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization on Dec. 11 for the Pfizer vaccine; developers say it is 95% effective. The company is scheduled to deliver 100 million U.S. doses by the end of March.
The Associated Press reported Friday that the FDA had also approved another vaccine, this one developed by Moderna Inc. and the National Institutes of Health.
Boozman said he hesitated before agreeing to be vaccinated, wondering if he should wait and get it in Arkansas when it becomes more readily available.
Ultimately, he decided to get the shot now. By stepping forward, he said he hoped to convince people who are on the fence about getting vaccinated.
“[We] can be so proud, as a country, that we were on the cutting edge of doing this. It just shows American ingenuity and our scientists and our health care providers are the best in the world,” he said.
The remaining three members of the Arkansas congressional delegation also intend to be vaccinated, though the timeline varies.
U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock plans to wait to be vaccinated until he qualifies to receive it back home. “When eligible, I’ll take the vaccine in Arkansas,” he said.
“Sen. [Tom] Cotton will follow the medical advice of the Attending Physician of Congress and take the vaccine when it becomes available and his schedule permits,” said a spokesman for the Little Rock Republican in a statement.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman said the lawmaker from Hot Springs “plans to get the vaccine at some point, he just hasn’t yet decided when that will be.”