Doctor debunks Sen. Rand Paul’s COVID immunity, face mask claims

Doctor debunks Sen. Rand Paul’s COVID immunity, face mask claims

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - On Fox News Thursday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made misleading claims that millions of Americans who contracted COVID-19 and recovered can’t get it again. The senator, a physician by trade, tested positive for the virus in March.

“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, live again - because these people are now immune,” Paul said to Fox News host Martha McCallum. “But Dr. Fauci doesn’t want to admit to any of that.”

A healthcare worker administers a COVID test at a drive-thru facility in Louisville.
A healthcare worker administers a COVID test at a drive-thru facility in Louisville. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

Paul also claimed that children may have a “preexisting immunity” to the virus.

Despite the senator’s claims, people like Richard Shepherd know firsthand that immunity is not guaranteed, and even with antibodies, reinfection is possible. The Kentucky native who now lives in Georgia tested positive for COVID-19 in March, then recovered before testing positive again in August.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul

“It was a pretty horrific two weeks, I have never been that tired in my life... it was like I was punched in the stomach and I couldn’t catch my breath,” Shepherd said of his first bout with the virus.

When he tested positive for a second time, Shepherd said his symptoms were less severe but the lingering effects still make it hard to breathe.

“I’m honestly hoping mine was one of those rare cases,” Shephard said.

Shepherd tells WAVE 3 he’s always taken precautions, including wearing a face mask, but he is still afraid that he may get the virus a third time.

While the science of COVID reinfection is being documented in real time amid the pandemic, some cases of reinfection like Shepherd’s have been reported in the U.S.

Dr. Ben Klausing, an infection disease expert with Baptist Health, says reinfection is rare but very real.

“It’s not really a question of if people can get reinfected, it’s a question of how many people are going to get reinfected,” he said. “I know I’ve taken care of patients who have been reinfected and I don’t think it’s going to end up being that uncommon that people will be reinfected.”

In regard to Paul’s stance on “throwing masks away” and recent tweets disparaging mask wearing, Klausing said masks are more important now than ever.

“Right now, eight months into this pandemic we’re in the worst position that we’ve ever been in. Now is not the time to be telling people to throw away their masks, we should be encouraging people to limit their exposure to other people and to wear a mask when they have to be out in public,” he explained. “We’re not turning a corner, in fact, we’re heading in the wrong direction from where we should be heading in. We’re in for some very, very perilous times in these next few weeks and months.”

Gov. Andy Beshear has continued to ask Kentuckians to wear face coverings.
Gov. Andy Beshear has continued to ask Kentuckians to wear face coverings. (Source: WVIR)

In a statement, a spokesperson for Sen. Paul clarified that COVID immunity may only last for some time:

“Everything we have learned about infectious disease in the last 100 years, from chickenpox to the seasonal flu, tells us that having recovered from a virus confers immunity for some period of time. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said so publicly back in April, and the World Health Organization subsequently acknowledged he was right. The Q & A section of the WHO’s website acknowledges that ‘[s]everal studies to date show that most people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 develop antibodies specific to this virus.’ A Portuguese study published last month in the European Journal of Immunology showed that 90% of COVID-19 survivors showed ‘virus neutralization activity’ from antibodies for at least 6 months after infection, and that those antibodies are strongest in those who had severe symptoms while infected. A slideshow presentation on the CDC’s website also reports that ‘[r]epeat exposure to SARS-CoV-2 may cause boosting of immune response’ (slide 22). In contrast to what has been claimed, studies are also shedding more light on possible pre-existing cross-reactive immunity. Ultimately, the science of natural immunity is the foundation of modern vaccine science, and acknowledging it should not be controversial.”

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