GOP doc dispenses sketchy medical advice on virus immunity

TOPEKA, Kan. — Roger Marshall won’t let people forget he’s a doctor, putting “Doc” in the letterhead of his U.S. Senate office’s news releases. Experts and doctors say that when he talks to the media about COVID-19, the Kansas Republican sounds more like an expert than a politician.

He’s made statements about vaccines and immunity that defy both medical consensus and official U.S. government guidance. He’s aggressively fighting President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements, arguing they’ll infringe on people’s liberties and wreck the economy. He’s acknowledged experimenting on himself with an unproven treatment for warding off the coronavirus.

Marshall’s positions are pushing the first-term senator and obstetrician closer to the medical fringe. He is not alone. There are many other GOP doctors, dentists, and pharmacists in Congress who have also given sketchy medical advice regarding the pandemic.

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

“He has an enormous role to play here because he’s a doctor and a senator,” said Arthur Caplan, founder of New York University’s medical ethics division and director of a vaccine ethics program. “He bears a very powerful responsibility to get it right.”

Marshall says he is fully vaccinated and has said he’s urged his parents recently to get booster shots. He joined other GOP doctors in Congress in an April public service campaign to encourage people get vaccinated.

But that was before Biden’s vaccine mandates fired up the party’s conservative base and had activists predicting that grassroots opposition could help drive Republicans into power in Congress in 2022. It was also before schools reopened in the fall and parents protested at mask mandates flocked to school board meetings.

“Off-year elections are all about turning out your base,” said Gregg Keller, a St. Louis-area GOP strategist who’s worked for conservative groups and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “Republicans are fired up.”

Recent polling shows  about half of Americans — just enough for a majority — favor requiring workers in large companies to get vaccinated or tested weekly. Biden also requires that military personnel, government contractors, as well as health care workers, get vaccinated.

Marshall and other Republicans will be pleased to know that polling also revealed deep divisions based on political party. According to The Associated Press survey and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research, 61% of 10 Republicans oppose the mandate for workers.

In winning his Senate seat last season, Marshall presented himself as a Trump supporter and stalwart. The two-term congressman representing western Kansas ran against a Democrat, a retired Kansas City-area physician who adhered to COVID-19 public health orthodoxy.

Marshall often went unmasked to campaign events and claimed that he took a weekly dose the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychoroquine, which Trump had promoted. That was despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning against using it to prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Marshall has unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation that would ban mandates for vaccines and bar dishonorable dismissals from the military for refusing to get vaccinated. He claims that mandating workers will make them quit or fire their jobs, increase supply chain problems, and cause inflation.

“Without even touching on the constitutionality of a federal mandate, I want people to realize the impact it’s going to have on the economy,”During a recent interview he said this.

He joined lawmakers late last month to promote unsupported theories about COVID-19 immune. He and 14 other GOP doctors and dentists sent a letter urging the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to consider natural immunity for those who have had the virus.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, an opthalmologist, and Texas Rep. Ronny Johnson, who was Trump’s medical adviser and doctor, were among the signers. The majority of the signers are from states and districts that Trump won by large margins last year.

Experts agree that natural immunity is a result of an infection. However the medical consensus is that this protection is not permanent and will diminish over time. That’s why the CDC currently urges even those who’ve had the virus to get vaccinated. A CDC report  released in August found the vaccine did boost protection among those who’ve recovered from the infection. Studies in September revealed that people who were not vaccinated were 11 times more likely than those who had been vaccinated.

The August CDC report cited a study that looked at the lives of residents in Kentucky and stated, “The findings from this study suggest that among previously infected persons, full vaccination is associated with reduced likelihood of reinfection, and, conversely, being unvaccinated is associated with higher likelihood of being reinfected.”

Marshall disputes the guidance that people who’ve had COVID-19 should get vaccinated. In an interview with AP, Marshall stated that his adult children have had COVID-19. “I don’t think they need the vaccine on top of it.”

He said that the matter requires more investigation. “We could get 20 scientists in here and have a two-hour discussion about it.”

The GOP consultant Keller said that he sees a political incentive to Marshall and other lawmakers focus on natural immunity. Keller stated that this challenge the Biden administration policies, but does not attack vaccines.

“Smart Republicans realize that there’s a certain amount of trust in the wider electorate in the vaccine,” Keller said.

Marshall says that as a practicing obstetrician and as a local health department director, he followed the CDC’s guidance on issues such as flu shots not harming pregnant women. But he says he’s lost trust in the CDC because of mixed messages early in the pandemic about masks: “It was a tough time for the CDC. It was a tough time for all of us.”

Dr. Leana Wein, an emergency physician and former Baltimore commissioner of health, stated that vaccine mandates should be considered. “clearly work”COVID-19 is contained.

“Vaccination is what we have because the price of getting immunity through natural infection is much too high,”Wen added that she fears people doing something similar to the “chicken pox parties”Some parents have raised their children. “We certainly would not want a policy that could lead people to choose to be infected.”

Sabrina Pass, who lives in a small town northwest of Fort Riley, Kansas, said she supports Marshall’s positions and said a candidate’s willingness to actively fight vaccine mandates will be important to her. She is a U.S. Department of Defense worker, 37-year-old mother of two teenagers, as well as a registered Republican. She sees protests against school-mask mandates as a threat. “awesome.”

But Dr. Beth Oller, a family physician in Rooks County in northwest Kansas, said she’s frustrated because Marshall’s medical degree is one reason patients who normally trust her about everything else resist her advice to get vaccinated. I find it hard to believe that Marshall’s medical degree is the reason patients don’t trust her about everything else. “I really don’t think he’s that stupid,”She said he is an expert on immunity and that people need flu shots and tetanus boosters.

“He should just be ashamed of himself,” Oller said.


John Hanna, The Associated Press

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