Leave it to Rand Paul, the Senate’s top libertarian and a physician to boot, to lead the charge against tyrannical government leaders calling for their previously coronavirus-infected subjects to wear face masks.
Mr. Paul, the only senator known to have contracted COVID-19, touched off a debate over antibodies and immunity when he returned Monday to Capitol Hill without the facial cover-ups that have become increasingly de rigueur in pandemic America.
Not to worry, he said.
“I have immunity. I’ve already had the virus, so I can’t get it again and I can’t give it to anybody,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters on Tuesday. “I can’t get it again, nor can I transmit. So of all the people you’ll meet here, I’m about the only safe person in Washington.”
He was promptly scolded by outlets such as NBC News, which said Mr. Paul, an eye surgeon, “can’t be sure of those claims,” while The Washington Post stated that “no one knows whether recovered covid-19 patients are immune to a new infection — or, if they are immune, how complete or long-lasting that immunity might be.”
“Sen. Rand Paul won’t wear mask, says he has immunity to coronavirus despite lack of evidence,” said USA Today.
Unbowed, Mr. Paul declared his independence from the mask despots.
“The fake news can’t stand that some people might not need to submit to the new authoritarianism of the left because they are immune to coronavirus,” he tweeted. “Modern science disagrees.”
He also had a message for others who have recovered from the infection: Don’t let the nannies force you to mask up.
“To the approximately 2 million New Yorkers and others who got coronavirus and survived, don’t let these busybodies tell you that you don’t have immunity,” tweeted Mr. Paul. “They want you to be lemmings and do as THEY see fit. RESIST!”
Who’s right? Based on what the experts say, they both have a point.
While it’s true that COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is too recent to have been studied extensively, and that the testing has been less than spot-on, it’s also widely acknowledged that pathogens trigger an antibody response that provides resistance to reinfection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a cautious approach, warning that the “immune response, including duration of immunity, to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not yet understood,” and advising people to wear face masks when interacting at close proximity with others.
“Patients with MERS-CoV are unlikely to be re-infected shortly after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19,” said the CDC guidance.
The World Health Organization sought to dampen enthusiasm for so-called “immunity passports” that would identify those with COVID-19 antibodies, pointing out that the reliability of such testing has been sketchy.
“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” said WHO in an April 24 scientific brief.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration launched a crackdown Monday on inaccurate antibody testing, announcing that manufacturers have 10 days to provide data proving the reliability of their tests or have them taken off the market.
One concern: Those who have recovered from COVID-19 are already being identified as potential donors of “convalescent plasma” for infected patients with a severe or life-threatening case.
“A person who has been exposed to, and recovered from, COVID-19 will likely have antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their blood,” the FDA said Monday in a brief. “These tests may be important for guiding our next steps in the fight against this pandemic, such as by providing information on disease prevalence and the frequency of asymptomatic infection.”
Reports of recovered patients testing positive for the novel coronavirus have emerged in China, Japan and South Korea, but infectious disease experts in Seoul announced last week that those cases were the result of testing errors, not reinfection, according to the Korea Herald.
Of course, the whole idea behind the sought-after “herd immunity” is that society protects itself from devastating diseases when enough people contract and recover from the infection.
Mayo Clinic infectious disease expert Dr. Gregory Poland said herd immunity can be achieved only two ways: Either large numbers of people are vaccinated against the disease, or enough people become immune “because you got infected.”
“Herd immunity basically means, if you could envision a circle, let’s say, of 100 people inside this circle, and if you can imagine the susceptible people being in the center of that, the more immune people around the susceptible people, the less likely is it that the virus can penetrate in and actually infect somebody,” Dr. Poland said Monday in a video post.
In fact, the strategy behind the vaccine is that “you can make somebody immune by tricking the body into thinking it has seen the virus, make antibodies, and that antibody be protective.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, repeatedly has expressed confidence on the likelihood of COVID-19 antibodies conferring at least short-term immunity, saying that he would be “willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”
“[I]f this virus acts like every other virus that we know, once you get infected, get better, clear the virus, then you’ll have immunity that will protect you against reinfection,” said Dr. Fauci on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in late March.
Last month, he told the Journal of the American Medical Association that people are unlikely to test positive for the disease twice.
“Generally, we know with infections like this, that at least for a reasonable period of time, you’re going to have antibodies that are going to be protective,” said Dr. Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.
Mr. Paul was quick to cite the expert support for his refusal to cover up. After recovering last month from the virus, the senator volunteered his medical services at a hospital in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he was reportedly involved in treating coronavirus patients.
“To those who want to continue this lockdown, even Dr. Fauci agrees if you’ve recovered you will have immunity!” he tweeted Wednesday.