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‘We won’t wear masks forever’: Fauci hits back at Rand Paul in mask row

Dr Anthony Fauci on Thursday night hit back at Rand Paul, after the Kentucky Republican accused him in a Senate hearing of using face masks as ‘theatre’ for the ‘nanny state’. 

Fauci, the nation’s top public health expert, and Paul, a libertarian who infuriated colleagues by continuing to use the Senate gym while awaiting the results of his COVID test, clashed forcefully on Thursday. 

Paul accused Fauci of trying to keep Americans under COVID restrictions ‘forever’. 

On Thursday night Fauci told CNN that it was ‘not the first time’ he and Paul had argued, but insisted that it was still essential to carry on wearing a face mask after being vaccinated.

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Dr Anthony Fauci appeared on CNN on Thursday night to discuss his earlier row with Rand Paul

Paul attacked government guidance that people who have been vaccinated still wear masks

Paul attacked government guidance that people who have been vaccinated still wear masks

‘There is always a kernel of truth in what he says; that there is protection, to some extent, after you get infected. There is no doubt about that,’ Fauci told Chris Cuomo. 

Fauci, 80, pointed out that Paul was ignoring the threat from new variants, and was ‘selective’ in his quoting medical literature.

Fauci highlighted an article in The Lancet published on Wednesday which said people aged 65 and over were at particular risk of getting re-infected.  

‘I’m afraid if people hear what he says, and they believe it, and you have an elderly person who has been infected, and they decide, well Rand Paul says you won’t get it again – they could get re-infected again and get into trouble,’ he said.

‘That’s the thing that bothers me about that kind of an interchange.’ 

Fauci said he understood that people were ‘tired of the constraints’ of social distancing and mask wearing, but insisted that for now it was still the right thing to do.

‘We are not saying doing this indefinitely,’ he said.

‘We are not saying this is the way it’s going to have to be all the time.

‘We are saying that if you look at the data, look at the science, you could get in trouble if you pull back too prematurely. 

‘That’s what we are saying. We are not saying it is not difficult to maintain public health measures, when you do it so long. On that, we agree.’ 

Fauci, who was appointed by Joe Biden as his chief medical advisor, said that Europe was now going back into lockdown because they were too quick to lift restrictions, and had not had as high a vaccine uptake as in the United States. 

‘We want to avoid that,’ he said, of the risk of a fourth wave and new lockdowns, as in Italy and France.

‘We’ve seen it before; we’ve been to that movie before; we want to avoid that.’ 

He said the recommendations on social distancing and mask wearing will change once more data becomes available that suggests it is safe.  

The row began earlier on Thursday when Fauci told Paul there was not yet sufficient information about the transmissibility of the virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.  

James Hubbard is seen in Carbondale, Illinois, being vaccinated on Thursday

James Hubbard is seen in Carbondale, Illinois, being vaccinated on Thursday

Women are seen wearing face masks in New York City on Wednesday

Women are seen wearing face masks in New York City on Wednesday

Paul, who was the first senator to test positive for the virus last year, strongly criticized the current government guidance.

He said people might be more inclined to get vaccinated if they would gain the ability to ditch their masks once they went through with getting one.

‘You’re defying everything we know about immunity by telling you to wear masks we’ve been vaccinated,’ said Paul, who is an ophthalmologist. 

‘Instead you should be saying: there is no science to say we’re going to have a problem from the large number of people you vaccinated. 

‘You want to get rid of vaccine hesitancy? Tell them they can quit wearing their mask after they get the vaccine.

‘You want people to get the vaccine? Give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state is going to be there for three more years and you got to wear a mask forever,’ he said.

'I totally disagree with you,' Fauci told Paul after the senator lectured him

‘I totally disagree with you,’ Fauci told Paul after the senator lectured him

'If you have immunity, they're theater,' said Paul of the face masks

‘If you have immunity, they’re theater,’ said Paul of the face masks

President Joe Biden has urged Americans to wear masks for 100 days to stem the virus

President Joe Biden has urged Americans to wear masks for 100 days to stem the virus

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has been vaccinated, wears a mask

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who has been vaccinated, wears a mask

‘People don’t want to hear it, there’s no science behind it,’ Paul continued, not leaving the witness much time to respond.

‘Well, let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective,’ Fauci said.

‘If you have immunity, they’re theater,’ said Paul. ‘If you already have immunity you’re wearing a mask to give comfort to others,’ he said.

‘I totally disagree with you,’ said Fauci, who advised President Trump during the start of the pandemic and revealed that he chafed at times in the role.

Fauci said dangerous new variants of the virus, including a more transmissible one that came from Great Britain, could still pose a risk to people who have previously been infected from different strains. 

Meanwhile, Biden took a victory lap Thursday announcing that his administration would meet its goal of having 100 million shots in arms in his first 100 days in office nearly six weeks early.

‘Tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans,’ he said during a speech at the White House.  

Biden was panned for announcing a vaccination goal in January that sounded ambitious, but which the country was already on track to reach when former President Trump left office.

He’ll set a new goal next week. 

He also warned Americans it was not a time to relax mask wearing and social distancing.  

The threat posed by mutations is the reason the CDC continues to advise people to wear masks when in public settings and with others – although it revised guidance to say people who have been vaccinated can remove masks when meeting small groups of other vaccinated people or with family members within the home. 

Said Fauci: ‘In the South African study conducted by [Johnson & Johnson], they found that people who were infected with wild type and were exposed to the variant in South Africa, the 351, it was as if they had never been infected before, they had no protection.’

Scientists still don’t know how long expected immunity would last with the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 2 million worldwide. 

WHICH CORONAVIRUS VARIANTS COULD WEAKEN VACCINES?  

Viruses are constantly evolving, so there are and always will be countless ‘variants’ of coronavirus. 

But not all variants are worrisome. Most are no more dangerous than the most common form. Some are weaker. 

In the U.S., there are currently five ‘variants of concern.’ All appear to be more infectious than the ‘wild type’ that caused the vast majority of infections in the previous waves of the pandemic. Only some might weaken vaccine effectiveness or evade vaccines.

‘UK VARIANT’ B117 

IS IT MORE INFECTIOUS? Yes, estimated to be 50-70% more infectious 

IS IT MORE DEADLY? That isn’t well-established. The latest research suggests it may be up to 55% more fatal.  

CAN IT ‘ESCAPE’ VACCINES OR REINFECT PEOPLE? No. Vaccines appear so far to work just as well against B117 and it does not seem to reinfect people. 

‘SOUTH AFRICAN’ VARIANT B1351

IS IT MORE INFECTIOUS? Yes, estimated to be about 50% more infectious 

IS IT MORE DEADLY? No, so far the variant appears to have about the same mortality risks as forms that are more prevalent in the U.S. 

CAN IT ‘ESCAPE’ VACCINES OR REINFECT PEOPLE? There is early evidence to suggest that vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are weakened by the variant, but are still protective. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was 82% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in trials in South Africa, where the variant is dominant. 

‘BRAZILIAN’ VARIANT P1 

IS IT MORE INFECTIOUS? Perhaps. It quickly became dominant in Brazil, and reinfection was common among COVID-19 survivors in Manaus. One study estimated it to be twice as infectious as the older form of the virus. 

IS IT MORE DEADLY? Perhaps. One study estimated that the risk of death from COVID-19 increased by 10 to 80% after the variant became dominant in Brazil, but the health care system there collapsed, making cause and effect unclear.

CAN IT ‘ESCAPE’ VACCINES OR REINFECT PEOPLE? It’s well established that the Brazilian variant reinfects people, suggesting antibodies developed from prior infection or via vaccines based on the original strain don’t work as well against it. 

‘CALIFORNIAN’ VARIANTS B1427 AND B1429

IS IT MORE INFECTIOUS? Yes, they are estimated to be 20% more infectious. 

IS IT MORE DEADLY? Unclear. There is not enough data to show an increase in mortality risks.

CAN IT ‘ESCAPE’ VACCINES OR REINFECT PEOPLE? Both variants make the antibodies triggered by vaccines somewhat weaker in lab tests. A ‘monoclonal’ antibody therapy from Eli Lilly doesn’t appear to work well against them, though combination antibody ‘cocktails’ from Lilly and Regeneron still seem to work. 

 




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