That medically suspect comment from Paul, who tested positive for the virus in March, contradicts widespread public health guidance as well as consistent messaging from many doctors and scientists: There is no evidence that people who have already contracted the virus are now immune to it, they have repeatedly said. And there is a possibility they can still spread the virus to others.
“I don’t know why he would say that,” Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist at the University of Washington Medical Center, told MSNBC of Paul’s comments. “There is no evidence that if you’ve been infected with covid-19 that you are immune from reinfection for any period of time.”
Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease specialist at Baylor University College of Medicine, wrote on Twitter that Paul’s remarks amounted to “anti-science disinformation.”
Rand Paul: We have 11 million people in our country who have already had COVID. We should tell them to celebrate. We should tell them to throw away their masks, go to restaurants, and live again because these people are now immune(they are not immune) pic.twitter.com/Un2CQ1b5Tg— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) November 13, 2020
A spokesperson for Paul said in a statement to The Washington Post that "the science of natural immunity is the foundation of modern vaccine science, and acknowledging it should not be controversial.”
The Fox News interview is far from the first time that the senator, a self-certified ophthalmologist, has been accused by doctors of spreading misinformation regarding a pandemic that has killed more than 242,000 people in the United States.
During a Senate hearing in September, he was singled out by Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for repeatedly misconstruing scientific data to serve a political talking point — in this case, about “herd immunity” in New York.
“He was saying things that were not true,” Fauci said on Vox’s “Today, Explained” podcast the following day. “It is what’s called cherry-picking information out there. He was saying things that were not compatible with the scientific data.”
“Doesn’t anyone care to know if mask mandates help?” the senator wrote on Twitter. “The data on mask mandates actually shows an INCREASED rate of COVID cases after the mandates.”
Hours later, he was speaking to Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum, claiming that young children as well as all those who have recovered from covid-19 are unable to contract it again.
“The bottom line is that there’s a great deal of optimism that we should have out there,” Paul said, “not just with the vaccine but with the immunity that kids may have preexisting and with the immunity that 11 million people got from having the disease.”
While current research shows that reinfection is rare — at least two dozen such cases have been confirmed globally — doctors have also warned that some patients who have contracted coronavirus again could be asymptomatic and still pass the virus on to others.
Local restrictions and public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public, still hold for people who have previously contracted the virus.
Even if the likelihood of contracting covid-19 a second time may be low, “there’s also no reason yet to behave as though you’re not at risk of getting sick again or, more likely, carrying enough of the virus to infect others,” the Atlantic’s James Hamblin, a lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote in September.
Paul, who correctly noted that mortality rates have lowered and doctors’ ability to treat the virus has improved, again went after Fauci, saying the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “tends to gloss over the science.”
After claiming to MacCallum that all recovered coronavirus patients are immune, Paul added: “Dr. Fauci doesn’t want to admit to any of that. Dr. Fauci’s like, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ until the election occurs, and now maybe he’ll be changing his attitude.”
Earlier on Thursday, Fauci had in fact pointed out on “Good Morning America” that help could be on its way soon, particularly after one pharmaceutical company reported its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in an initial analysis.
He added that he was opposed to a national lockdown, noting widespread adherence to public health measures could avoid such a measure.
“If you want to think of it metaphorically, the cavalry is coming,” he said. “Vaccines are going to have a major positive impact.”
But together with newly appointed coronavirus advisers to President-elect Joe Biden, Paul warned, Fauci and his “bias” toward government solutions could mean a lockdown — or something close to it — is not far away.
“You know,” he told MacCallum, “it scares me to death.”
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.
New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.
Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.
Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.
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