Vaccinated Lawmaker’s Infection Leads to New Push on Masking

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY

(Bloomberg) -- Two days after U.S. Representative Brad Schneider got his Covid-19 shot, he was jammed into a secured room with dozens of other lawmakers during the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Now he’s one of at least three lawmakers who have tested positive for the virus after spending hours confined in that location. The Illinois Democrat on Tuesday criticized Republicans who refused to wear masks inside the space, an action that has taken on political significance in the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic has unfurled.

That the vaccine doses Schneider and one of the other infected lawmakers received days before the Jan. 6 riot offered no protection is a lesson for Americans, Schneider said, as millions start rolling up their sleeves to receive shots they believe will keep them from becoming infected.

“They tell you with the first dose of the vaccine you aren’t going to have any protection at all most likely for the first couple of weeks,” Schneider said during a call with reporters on Tuesday. “There’s a reason you have a second shot three weeks later, to get you to what we believe is better than 90%, 95% protection.”

That’s why masking is important, he said. Schneider will remained masked even after his second shot, he said, because the science hasn’t yet determined whether vaccinated people -- though protected from the disease -- can continue to pass on the virus.

“Even after I have my second dose, I’m going to follow the same safety protocols,” he said. “The science tells me the vaccine gives me the antibodies to not be overly affected by the virus. It hasn’t been proven that I can’t infect somebody else, and the last thing I want is to infect somebody else.”

House Democrats are now proposing a $1,000 fine for lawmakers who refuse to wear a mask inside the Capitol, as well their removal from the House floor by the Sergeant at Arms. The rule would be in effect until the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention deems it is safe not to wear a mask.

Also Infected

Also infected were U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, a 75-year-old New Jersey Democrat and lung cancer survivor.

Brian Monahan, the Capitol’s attending physician, on Sunday recommended that members who had sheltered together in the secured room should get tested because they might have been exposed to another occupant who was infected.

A rapid test Schneider underwent was negative for the virus on Saturday, two days after the Capitol was stormed. But a more sensitive PCR test turned up a positive result on Monday.

While Schneider said he can’t say for sure where he got infected, and none of the Republicans in the room have announced a positive test result, the confined space where the lawmakers were tightly packed is the most likely culprit, he said.

“I don’t know where I got the virus, but the room where we spent the most time is the likely place,” he said. “I can’t blame any one person, but I can condemn the act of those people who refused to put on their masks, and just out of courtesy tried to keep everyone around them as safe as possible.”

More Potent

The two available vaccines in the U.S. appear more potent after the second injection. Among 43,000 who took part in a study of the immunization from Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE, just nine people developed Covid-19 within a week of getting their second active shot, compared to 169 who received a placebo.

It was less protective after just one shot, however. Between the first and the second injections, 39 people getting the vaccine and 82 people given the placebo contracted the virus, according to the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s critical that people are aware of the potential risk after they have been vaccinated, Schneider suggested. A false sense of security could help spread the virus.

First Month

More than 9.2 million doses have been administered in the U.S. during the first month of the vaccine roll out, with most going to those getting their first injection.

The pace is expected to pick up as the CDC and the Trump administration have revised their recommendations that the paired second dose for every shot given be held back. Instead, they are urging states to broaden their vaccination efforts, making all the product they have available, with plans to administer the second shots with increased supplies promised by the companies.

“We can no longer tolerate members coming to the floor or gathering in the halls of Congress without doing the bare minimum to protect those around them,” Schneider said. “Those that flout public health guidance should be sanctioned and immediately removed from the House floor by the Sergeant at Arms for their reckless endangerment of their colleagues.”

Since returning to Deerfield from Washington, Schneider said, “I have remained isolated as much as possible from my wife in our house and have not experienced other close contacts since my exposure on Wednesday.”