McConnell made his comments on Monday afternoon while taking questions at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Hazard Clinic in Perry County, Kentucky. He visited the clinic to thank healthcare workers and express support for the vaccine.
A journalist in attendance asked McConnell about a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll in which 49 percent of Republican men said they would not get the vaccine. The poll interviewed 1,227 U.S. adults from March 3 to March 8. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
“Two of [the vaccines] are 90 percent effective,” McConnell said, referring to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. “One of them is 70 percent effective,” he added, referring to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“I didn’t realize until this pandemic began that the flu shot is only 50 percent effective, and a whole lot of people get the flu shot. So there’s no good argument not to get the vaccination,” McConnell added. “I would encourage all men, regardless of party affiliation, to get the vaccination.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that annual flu vaccines offer anywhere from 40 to 60 percent immunity against seasonal strains of influenza.
On March 16, Trump told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo that he would recommend the vaccine to the network’s conservative audience.
“I would. I would recommend it,” Trump said. “I would recommend it to a lot of people who don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.”
“But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also,” he added. “But it’s a great vaccine. It’s a safe vaccine and it’s something that works.”
Trump also mentioned that he and Melania Trump, the former first lady, had both received vaccine shots and had encouraged others to do the same.
The former president’s remarks came a day after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration of President Joe Biden would appreciate Donald Trump being “more vocal about the safety and efficacy” of the vaccine.
“We’d support that,” she told reporters. “Every other living president has participated in public campaigns.”
On March 14, Biden encouraged all local doctors, preachers, ministers and priests to tell their conservative community members to get vaccinated and wear face masks.
Epidemiologists estimate that 70 percent of the population will need to develop immunity to COVID-19 in order to end the pandemic, whether through vaccinations or other means, according to Science Magazine.
During McConnell’s other comments at the ARH hazard clinic on Monday, he said that no Republican Congress members signed onto Biden’s recently passed $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus bill because they felt it contained too much non-pandemic-related spending. Democrats helped Republicans pass Trump’s previous pandemic stimulus bills with bipartisan support.
When asked about recent mass shootings and a Democratic bill adding background checks for certain types of gun purchasers, McConnell said that he didn’t want to make it harder for law-abiding Americans to acquire guns for self-defense. Instead, he said, he and Congressional Republicans are more interested in figuring out how to prevent mentally ill people from getting guns.
Newsweek contacted McConnell for comment.