U.S. Rep. John Katko is encouraging more Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine as cases begin to surge across the country, including New York.
Katko, the ranking Republican member of the House Homeland Security Committee, released a statement on Monday touting the vaccine. Federal regulators have, on an emergency basis, approved three COVID-19 vaccines: The two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
"As increasingly stronger COVID-19 variants begin to take hold, the homeland is left less resilient when a deadly virus is spreading like wildfire," Katko said. "Luckily, the ingenuity unleashed by the Trump administration and Operation Warp Speed has given us an accessible solution."
Operation Warp Speed was an initiative launched last year by former President Donald Trump to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. More than $10 billion was spent to support the research and development of vaccines. Johnson & Johnson and Moderna received direct funding from the program, while money from Operation Warp Speed was used to buy doses of the Pfizer vaccine — the first approved in the United States.
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Katko was among the first to get vaccinated. He received his first Pfizer dose shortly after the vaccine's approval in December.
In his public comments, Katko has urged others to get vaccinated. But he does not believe there should be vaccine mandates. He repeated that in his latest statement, but wants everyone to "be operating with the same facts."
"These vaccines are safe, miraculously effective against all variants, free, and easy to get," he said. "Furthermore, widespread adoption of the vaccine is critical to a return to international and business travel which will be heavy drivers of global economic recovery. I strongly encourage all Americans to weigh this decision with their doctor and not their Twitter feed."
COVID-19 cases are rising again, and health experts have said the latest surge is driven by the unvaccinated. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that only 0.15% of vaccinated residents have been infected by COVID-19. More than 11 million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 tracker shows that new daily cases dipped below 10,000 in late June, but began to increase in July. On Thursday, there were 66,769 new cases — the most in a day since mid-April.
Nationally, the CDC reports that 49.1% of the total population is fully vaccinated. Among eligible individuals ages 12 and older, the vaccination rate is 57.5%.
The emergence of the Delta variant is one reason why there are new efforts to get more Americans vaccinated. Cuomo said that the Delta variant has been found in 72.2% of new cases in New York. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week that the variant represents 83% of new cases.
Despite the Delta variant's presence, Katko struck a positive tone. While there are calls for the reinstitution of mask mandates and other actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, most of the focus is on getting more people vaccinated.
"Americans can rest assured that there is an end in sight, but it will require each of us to do our part," Katko said. "I have no doubt we will emerge from this pandemic stronger than before. I urge everyone to look at the facts and strongly consider vaccination."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.