Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday for the first time after recovering from a breakthrough case of COVID-19, and he urged his fellow South Carolinians to get vaccinated.
"I've been vaccinated, and I got COVID anyway," Graham said. "A couple of really bad days, but I'm doing better and I feel on the mend."
Graham added, "I'm confident if I hadn't had the vaccine, it'd have been a lot worse."
"To all my colleagues, I appreciate the good wishes and the phone calls and the food. I made it. I think the worst is behind me," Graham said.
Recognizing that many Americans, especially Republican voters, have been slow to embrace vaccinations, the 66-year-old senator added: "I want to reinforce a simple message: If you haven't been vaccinated, regarding the COVID problem, you need to get vaccinated."
He noted that about half of South Carolina residents are unvaccinated.
"Just for your own good and the good of our state, I would urge you to consider getting vaccinated," he said. "I think the vaccine is safe, it works, and certainly I'm glad I had it. And the sooner we get to herd immunity, through vaccinations and other means, the better off we'll be."
Many have been reluctant because the Food and Drug Administration has yet to grant full approval to the three vaccines that have been given emergency approval to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts say that despite breakthrough cases such as Graham's, the vaccines are safe and do prevent hospitalization in more than 99% of people who have been vaccinated, even with the delta variant, which is now the most common variant in the United States.
The delta variant is more deadly and more commonly spread, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention.
"No one's being asked to go off to fight radical Islam or fight a foreign enemy," Graham said. "We're being asked to make responsible medical decisions. Take the vaccine."
Graham is the first known senator to contract a breakthrough case of COVID-19. He has also urged former President Donald Trump to press his supporters to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which Graham called "the antidote to the virus that’s wreaking havoc on our hospitals."
"I’ve urged him to be aggressive and say, 'Take the vaccine,'" Graham said last week in an extensive interview with The Associated Press.
Graham said he had tested positive days after gathering with a handful of Senate colleagues on Sen. Joe Manchin's houseboat. Graham said he began experiencing flu-like symptoms that night.
Saying he felt "achy and kind of yucky" through the weekend, Graham said last Thursday that he had been steadily improving, although Monday and Tuesday of last week were ''pretty tough days."
"It went from sort of a mild sinus infection until just a full-blown, feeling like crap," Graham told the AP.
In March, Trump said on Fox News that he would recommend vaccination to "a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me."
But last month at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump told supporters that he felt some people were not taking the vaccine because they "don’t trust" President Joe Biden and stressed people’s "freedoms 100%" to do what they felt best.
Last Thursday, Graham said he had just gotten off the phone with Trump, who had been checking on him every day during his illness. He applauded Trump's work to develop the vaccine and said he saw vaccinations as necessary for the country to regain its footing.
"He's very proud of that accomplishment," Graham said. "From a conservative person's point of view, we should do all we can as a nation to get our economy back up and running and to protect our way of life."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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