GOP doc dispenses sketchy medical advice on virus immunity
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington. Image via AP.

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Marshall’s positions are pushing the first-term senator and obstetrician closer to the medical fringe.

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. But when he talks about COVID-19 vaccines, some doctors and experts say the Kansas Republican sounds far more like a politician than a physician.

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. But he has company in other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress, several of whom have also spread sketchy medical advice when it comes to 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 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 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 also was before schools reopened for the fall and angry parents flocked to school board meetings to protest mask mandates.

“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 is requiring the military, government contractors and health care workers to get vaccinated.

But perhaps crucially for Marshall and other Republicans, the polling also showed people are deeply split based on their political party. About 6 in 10 Republicans opposed the mandate for workers, according to the survey by The Associated Press and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research.

Marshall positioned himself as a stalwart 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 hewing to public health orthodoxy on COVID-19.

Marshall regularly went unmasked at campaign events and said he took a weekly dose of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychoroquine promoted by Trump. That was despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning against using it to prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Marshall has since tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation that would ban vaccine mandates and bar dishonorable discharges from the military for not getting vaccinated. He argues that mandates for workers will cause them to quit or be fired, worsen supply chain problems and drive up 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,” 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, when setting vaccination policies, to consider natural immunity in people who have had the virus.

The signers included Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, and Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, who served as doctor and medical adviser to Trump. Most are from states or districts that Trump carried by wide margins last year.

Experts agree that natural immunity arises after an infection, but the general medical consensus is that the degree of protection varies from person to person and is likely to wane 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 released in September showed that unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die than the vaccinated.

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

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

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

“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. Leanna Wen, an emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner, said vaccine mandates “clearly work” in containing COVID-19.

“Vaccination is what we have because the price of getting immunity through natural infection is much too high,” Wen said, adding that she fears people doing something akin to the “chicken pox parties” some parents have had for their children. “We certainly would not 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 37-year-old U.S. Department of Defense employee, the mother of two teenagers and a registered Republican. She sees protests against school mask mandates as “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. Musing that “I really don’t think he’s that stupid,” she said he knows how immunity works and why people need flu shots and tetanus boosters.

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

___

Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

Associated Press


6 comments

  • Alex

    October 9, 2021 at 9:58 am

    Another quack who says it takes rights he can’t name, and in his befuddled mind, the lack of them will somehow magically wreak havoc on the economy.

    I bet he said gay marriage would destroy “the fabric” of our society too.

    Reply

    • Jerry

      October 9, 2021 at 1:23 pm

      Economy is going to crash no matter what happens with COVID mandates. The stock market is severely overbought and way overdue for a correction, we have debt problems, we have supply chain problems, and all you have to do is take a trip to the grocery store to see inflation with your own eyes.

      30 years of endless debt spending is going to catch up to us eventually. And the only solution the Democrats have is…..more spending. $3.5 trillion (that we don’t have) to start off the green new deal. And then we have to deal with vaccine mandates which is going to cause labor shortages in industries that are already struggling to retain workers.

      We have a lot of really, really stupid people in charge of this country right now.

      Reply

      • Alex

        October 9, 2021 at 2:21 pm

        Waaahhhhh the sky is falling!

        Is that what Klannity is telling his flock these days?

        Oh, and you forgot the overpriced housing market just to pile more doom saying on top.

        And most of the national debt was put there by Republican tax cuts that don’t boost the economy, and never have.

        None of this was not anticipated by the Fed long ago, and some inflation now is better than a recession, or doesn’t Hannity tell you those little secrets educated people know?

        And the only incompetents are Republican Governors killing their citizens and endangering kids because of some imaginary rights they can’t name and won’t be able to show exist in courts.

        Fact is the economy is much worse than it would have been if stupid republicans weren’t such babies about losing that they refuse to help themselves and the country by getting vaccinated.

        So what do you have really?

        A lot of whining.

        Reply

      • Tjb

        October 11, 2021 at 11:10 am

        Just want to thank trump for getting the USA in Debt by $7.2 trillions. Perhaps by taxing the wealthy a bit more, we can bring the debt down significantly and with Democrats plan plan create more higher paying jobs for middle class works with more infrastructure jobs.

        Reply

      • Tjb

        October 12, 2021 at 11:15 am

        In recent history the greatest increases in National Debt usually have been under Republican Presidents (Reagan, the Bushes, Trump, the only exception is Obama)

        Reply

    • FayKittleson

      October 9, 2021 at 2:48 pm

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      Reply

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