SUNDAY CONVERSATION: McCaul discusses COVID-19 vaccine

With a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, the community is cautiously hopeful for an end to the pandemic. Congressman Michael McCaul, representative for District 10, has been a key player in working alongside the medical community to see to it that a safe, effective vaccine could be developed and made available to the public quickly.

McCaul was a major proponent of Operation Warp Speed, a U.S. government initiative dedicated to facilitating and accelerating the development, manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

McCaul discussed the process of working behind the scenes to advance vaccine availability and when the residents of District 10 can expect to have access to it.

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This is the first time in history that we’ve gotten a vaccine so quickly. Did you do anything to encourage the expedited process? Tell us about your involvement and why you championed this cause.

I sent a letter in March to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar asking them about a plan to scale-up vaccine distribution, previewing the agency’s work for what was to become Operation Warp Speed. This pandemic has killed over one million people globally and cost Americans thousands of jobs, and I wanted to do something about it. In Phase I of COVID-19 relief, I voted for $8.3 billion to kick-start the COVID response, including the development of a vaccine. Before the pandemic, I had the foresight to advocate for increased funding for the National Institute of Health, which has played an instrumental part in combating this virus.

What was it like working with the medical community to bring this potentially lifesaving vaccine to the American people?

I think it’s truly remarkable how quickly this vaccine was safely and effectively manufactured and will soon be approved. In a matter of months, we were able to come up with not one, but three different promising COVID-19 vaccines. To put this into perspective, it took six years to approve a vaccine for Ebola. It is evident that Operation Warp Speed has been a complete success and I am proud to have supported funding that made the development of this vaccine possible.

You support a lot of causes that involve the medical world. You’re working to combat childhood cancer and the global AIDS crisis, for example. How did your involvement in the battle against COVID-19 compare to those experiences?

My work combating the global AIDS crisis and childhood cancer prepared me to address a life-threatening global issue, like COVID-19. I was able to advocate for NIH funding and make connections with key players at HHS and NIH prior to COVID-19 – which was very effective in understanding the resources available to help the American people defeat this virus.

There is a lot of apprehension surrounding the vaccine, especially because it was approved so quickly. In the past, we’ve seen devastating results to medical treatments that were pushed through too quickly. How can people trust that this vaccine is safe?

The Food and Drug Administration did not compromise safety in the process of developing an effective vaccine. I have talked to Secretary Azar regarding safety issues, and he has assured me that the vaccine is very safe.

I think understanding what is in the vaccine is also a comfort – so let’s discuss that for a moment. Unlike other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine is not cell-based, meaning it does not use an inactivated germ to help build antibodies, rather the vaccine uses mRNA to teach our cells how to make antibodies to fight off the virus. You can read more about how the vaccine works on CDC’s website too.

Should people who are low-risk for complications due to COVID-19 still get the shot?

For any health question you may have, I think it is first and foremost important to consult with your doctor. In my opinion, I do believe that it is safe for everyone to get the vaccine – but again if you have questions, I recommend consulting your doctor.

Will you be getting the vaccine yourself? If so, do you know when you’ll be receiving it?

Once the vaccine is available and I am eligible to receive it, I will do so as soon as possible. I believe the vaccine is critical to the public health of our nation, which in turn will get our economy back on track to support hard working Americans. I will be encouraging everyone to have faith in the science and take the vaccine.

When can the residents of your district expect to be able to get the shot?

December 14th is when the first batch of vaccines will go in Texas. I must commend Governor Abbott for his plan in distributing the vaccine – as soon as it is approved, the state will begin administering it. At first it will go to our health care and frontline workers and then the vulnerable populations. I am hopeful that by spring 2021 most Americans will be able to get the vaccine. Dr. Fauci has predicted this could be the case.

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What would you say to people who are afraid to get the vaccine?

I can understand why people could be fearful, we are all going through this unprecedented time together, and the unknown can be frightening. What always calms my nerves is looking to what I do know. We know that no steps were skipped in the process of safely and effectively manufacturing this vaccine and we know that those who have developed and are involved in its approval have the highest standards before releasing it to the public. These key things are great to focus on when you may start to feel uneasy. And again, I encourage anyone who is apprehensive to consult their doctor.

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