COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As he recovers from a breakthrough infection of the coronavirus, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that he has urged former President Donald Trump to press his supporters to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which the South Carolina Republican 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 in an extensive interview with The Associated Press, his first since disclosing this week that he had tested positive for the virus, months after being vaccinated.
On Monday, Graham said he had tested positive days after gathering with a handful of Senate colleagues on Sen. Joe Manchin’s houseboat. That same night, Saturday, Graham said he began experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Saying he felt “achy and kind of yucky” through the weekend, Graham said Thursday that his symptoms had been steadily improving, although Monday and Tuesday were “pretty tough days.” He said he believed his symptoms would have been much worse had he not been vaccinated.
“It went from sort of a mild sinus infection until just a full-blown, feeling like crap,” Graham told AP.
Graham declined to talk about the Manchin event on Thursday, except to say that “everybody there was vaccinated.” Long a proponent of vaccination, Graham received his shots in December.
Asked Thursday if President Joe Biden planned to highlight pro-vaccine comments from Republicans like Graham, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said vaccination “is not political to us” but added, “We think it’s great that he’s out there talking about the impact of the vaccine.”
Graham is a longtime ally of Trump, who received the vaccine earlier this year. This week, former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times that he wished that Trump had gotten the shot publicly, so that his supporters could “see how much trust and confidence he has” in the vaccines.
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, 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 percent” to do what they felt best.
On 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.”
Recognizing that taking the vaccine might be a “sacrifice” for some, Graham said the task paled in comparison with others that have been required of Americans in the past.
“No one’s being asked to go off to fight radical Islam or fight a foreign enemy. We’re being asked to make responsible medical decisions,” Graham said. “Take the vaccine.”