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Long Island's congressional delegation receives COVID-19 vaccine

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), receives the

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), receives the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Credit: Office of US Representative Tom Suozzi

This story was reported by Tom Brune, Scott Eidler and Laura Figueroa Hernandez. It was written by Eidler.

The email from the U.S. Capitol physician came down Thursday night after 9:30, at the end of the fourth day that a coronavirus vaccine had been rolled out across the country.

Dr. Brian P. Monahan, a rear admiral of the U.S. Navy, cited the National Security Council's interpretation of a federal directive to preserve "continuity of government."

In his letter urging members to get vaccinated, Monahan said the decision was "consistent with Presidential Policy Directive 40," and set forth that "Congress and the Supreme Court, along with Executive Branch agencies, will be provided with a specific number of COVID19 vaccine doses to meet long-standing requirements for continuity of government operations."

His directive was bold and underlined: "My recommendation to you is absolutely unequivocal: there is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine. The benefit far exceeds any small risk."

With that, the first members of Congress began receiving doses of the coronavirus vaccine on Friday.

On social media, some said the members had cut in front of the line. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he would wait until more front-line workers got their vaccines. But by and large, the members of Long Island's congressional delegation who were vaccinated said they wanted to show consitutents — many of whom won't get it for months — that the process was safe and effective.

Some described a little soreness, and a prick that felt like nothing.

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Rep. Kathleen Rice

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who was in Washington on Sunday waiting to vote on a new coronavirus relief package, said getting the shot "was super easy."

Rice, who got the flu shot in her right arm a week ago, received the coronavirus vaccine in her left arm. She waited in the Rayburn House Office Building, along with other members of Congress, until it was clear she had no allergic reaction to the dose.

"We all social distanced and we left when the nurse said we could leave. It was super simple," she said.

"There is some soreness where the shot was given, but basically nothing else," Rice said.

Rice said she planned "to be very public" about promoting the efficacy of the vaccine. She acknowledged this weekend she "thought it looked a little tone deaf" to hear members of Congress discuss getting the vaccine while "trying to get a deal" done.

But Dr. Monahan, she said, "was advising every member to get the vaccine … we are I guess deemed essential that we have to travel from our homes … at a time when most people are encouraged not to travel. We have exposure when we’re here to people I consider to be front-line workers, Capitol police," she said.

"Every time we come down here we get another list of members who have COVID. It’s a real risk," she added.

Rice said she planned to also reach out to anti-vaxxers.

Rice said she hopes they realize that hesitation around a coronavirus vaccine is different from not wanting to give a child the rubella shot, and "all the things you're supposed to give your kids."

"That’s a different ball of wax," she said, and with "the ferocity of this virus and how quickly we were able to get vaccines, I hope it gives people pause to reconsider if they fell under that anti-vaxxer category."

Rep. Thomas Suozzi

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) got the vaccine late Friday afternoon, in the Rayburn Health Center.

"It was pretty uneventful," Suozzi said in an interview Sunday. "You could hardly feel it when it happened."

"I didn't even feel the needle prick," Suozzi said.

By Saturday afternoon, Suozzi said: "My shoulder was a little bit sore, and I felt tired. But I don't know if it was because of the vaccine or because I'm stuck in Washington."

He got the vaccine to demystify the process for skeptical consitutients.

"There's all kinds of debate out there about, 'Is this safe? Is this not safe?' And you have some people that don't trust vaccines to begin with. … Part of my job is to show people it's safe."

Suozzi said he planned to conduct "a whole bunch of social media" to encourage skeptics.

Suozzi, who is 58, said when he looks at his shoulder where he was pricked, he sees the scar of another shot administered during childhood. "It’s right near where I got the old scar when I was a kid," Suozzi said, guessing it was the "smallpox or polio vaccine."

Rep. Gregory Meeks

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said the coronavirus vaccine was "less painful than the flu shot, to be quite honest with you. I didn't even realize that they injected me at the time that they did."

On Saturday, after getting the shot, Meeks said he went to the gym and worked out, sticking to his usual routine of cardio and light weights.

Meeks, who is 67, went for "a little jog outside" on Sunday.

Meeks said it was key to show his constituents, many of whom are from minority communities that were disproportionately affected by the severity of the virus, that the vaccine was safe and essential.

Meeks said he heard skepticism on the Facebook Live shows he hosts for his constituents. "Some were sounding hesitant," and he detected a "lack of trust," he said.

He spoke to key officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told him: "There's nothing that was skipped. All of the testing that was done … everything was complete and checked."

Meeks said: "I always said I would take it when it was offered to us. I didn't want to jump the line or anything," he said.

But by not taking it immediately, he didn't want to "put in someone’s mind, Why isn't the congressman taking it?"

Rep. Peter King

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) has less than two weeks left in his term. He's retiring after 28 years in Congress.

En route to Washington for coronavirus relief talks, King said Sunday morning he was not going to get the vaccine from Congress, even though he wants it.

That's because he'd have to return to Washington exactly three weeks to the date in order to get the second dose of Pfizer's vaccine.

By then he'll be a former member of Congress.

"I would get it if I could," King said. "I'll have to find somewhere locally on Long Island to get it."

"Once you're gone, you're gone," he said.

Rep. Lee Zeldin

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said through a spokeswoman he will wait a few weeks to be vaccinated.

"Congressman Zeldin will definitely be taking the vaccine over the coming weeks and is very much looking forward to it," his spokeswoman, Katie Vincentz, said in a statement. "He believes that vaccine distribution should be prioritized to those who need it most. The elderly and front-line workers should receive front of the line priority access over Members of Congress."

Rep.-elect Andrew Garbarino

Congressman-elect Andrew Garbarino, a Republican state assemblyman from Bayport, will succeed King in January.

He said in a statement: "I do not believe members of Congress should be prioritized over front line workers, and our most vulnerable populations when determining who should receive the vaccine. Once those groups have been vaccinated and doctors say it is my turn, I look forward to receiving the vaccine."

Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

New York's two senators were vaccinated over the weekend.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the minority leader, tweeted Saturday: "At the advice of the attending physician in the Capitol, I received the first of two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine today. The vaccine is safe and effective, and I encourage everyone to take it as it becomes available."

Schumer in a phone interview said he has felt no side effects from the vaccine.

"It does not hurt. Everything is good with it. People should get it when they can, as soon as they can."

A spokesman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), said in a statement to Newsday: "Per the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, Senator Gillibrand received a vaccination shot Friday. She believes it is important to potentially protect her family and staff around her, as well as to show hesitant New Yorkers that the vaccine is safe and vaccination is a responsible thing to do for the community."

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