GOP doc dispenses sketchy medical advice on virus immunity

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Roger Marshall put “doctor” in the letterhead of his US Senate office news release to not let people forget that he is a doctor. But when he talks about COVID-19 vaccines, some doctors and experts say the Kansas Republican sounds more like a politician than a physician.

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He has made statements about vaccines and immunizations that defy both medical consent and official US government guidance. He has been aggressively fighting President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements, arguing they would infringe on people’s liberties and ruin the economy. He has admitted that he experimented on himself with an unproven treatment to ward off the coronavirus.

Marshall’s position is pushing the senator and obstetrician closer to the medical fringe for the first time. But he has company among other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress, many of whom have also provided medical advice when it comes to the pandemic.


Critics say the lawmakers’ statements are dangerous and unethical, and Marshall’s medical degree provides a perception of expertise that carries weight with constituents and other members of Congress.

“He has a big role here because he’s a doctor and a senator,” said Arthur Caplan, founder of New York University’s Medical Ethics Division and director of the Vaccine Ethics Program. “He carries a very powerful responsibility to fix it.”

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Marshall says he’s been fully vaccinated and says he’s recently urged his parents to get booster shots. He and other GOP doctors in Congress appeared in a public service campaign in April to encourage people to get vaccinated.

But that was before Biden’s vaccine mandate had fired the party’s conservative base and activists predicted grassroots opposition could help propel Republicans to power in Congress in 2022. This was before schools reopened for the fall and angry parents flocked to school board meetings to protest. Mask mandate.

“Off-year elections are about changing your base,” said Greg Keller, a St. Louis-area GOP strategist who works for conservative groups and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “Republicans are fired.”

Recent polling shows nearly half of Americans — enough for a majority — need workers at large companies to be vaccinated or tested weekly. Biden also requires the military, government contractors and health care workers to get vaccinated.

But perhaps crucially for Marshall and other Republicans, the poll also showed that people are deeply divided based on their political party. According to a poll by the Associated Press and the NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 6 in 10 Republicans oppose the mandate for workers.

Marshall positioned himself as a strong Trump supporter in winning his Senate seat last year. The two-term congressman from western Kansas ran against a Democrat and retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist against a public health conservative over COVID-19.

Marshall regularly went unmasked at campaign events and said he took a weekly dose of hydroxychoroquine, the anti-malarial drug promoted by Trump. This was despite warnings from the US Food and Drug Administration of using it to prevent COVID-19 infection.

Marshall has since unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation that would ban vaccine mandates and bar abusive discharges from the military for not being vaccinated. He argues that the mandate for workers would cause them to leave or be fired, worsening supply chain problems and driving up inflation.

“Without touching the constitutionality of a federal mandate, I want people to feel the impact on the economy,” he said during a recent interview.

Late last month, he joined lawmakers pushing unsupported theories about COVID-19 immunity. He and 14 other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress sent a letter to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the agency to consider natural immunity in people with the virus, when setting vaccination policies.

Signatories included Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, and Texas Representative Ronnie Jackson, who served as Trump’s doctor and medical adviser. Most are from states or districts that Trump led by a wide margin last year.

Experts agree that natural immunity occurs after infection, but the general medical consensus is that the degree of protection varies from person to person and is likely to decrease over time. That’s why the CDC currently urges even people who have this virus to get vaccinated. A CDC report released in August found that the vaccine boosted protection in those recovering from the infection. Studies released in September showed that unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die than those not vaccinated.

Marshall disputes that guidance. In a recent AP interview, he noted that his adult children have COVID-19 and, “I don’t think they need a vaccine on top of that.”

He argued that the issue needed more investigation: “We can get 20 scientists here and have a two-hour discussion about it.”

Keller, a GOP adviser, said he sees a political incentive for Marshall and other lawmakers to focus on the issue of natural immunity. Keller said Biden challenges the administration’s policies without attacking vaccines.

“Smart Republicans feel that there is a certain amount of confidence in the broad electorate in the vaccine,” Keller said.

Marshall says that as an obstetrician and director of a local health department, she followed CDC’s guidance on issues such as flu shots not harming pregnant women. But he says he has lost trust in the CDC due to mixed…


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