In his continued sparring with Fauci over COVID-19, did Sen. Rand Paul oversimplify the science?

Published 1:15 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News Kaiser Health News

“Sorry Dr Fauci and other fearmongers, new study shows vaccines and naturally acquired immunity DO effectively neutralize COVID variants. Good news for everyone but bureaucrats and petty tyrants!”

— Sen. Rand Paul in a tweet, March 21, 2021

That Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky often disagrees with infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci is well known.

Recently, the pair clashed at a Senate hearing when Paul, a Republican, argued against mask recommendations for people who have had covid-19 or have been vaccinated against it.

At the hearing, Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, pushed back against Paul’s characterization of wearing masks as “theater.” Continued caution is advised, Fauci said, as scientists study the new variants now circulating in the U.S. and other countries.

Paul, an eye doctor by training, continued the squabble a few days later, calling out Fauci in a tweet, pointing to a study that he said “shows vaccines and naturally acquired immunity DO effectively neutralize COVID variants.”

The tweet linked to a study published online at the JAMA Network, a family of specialty medical journals.

We reached out to Paul’s office for additional sources for his tweet but did not receive a reply.

So, we asked the experts: Are covid variants effectively neutralized by vaccines or natural immunity conferred on people who recover from the illness?

In short, the research cited by Paul does show good blood levels of neutralizing antibodies against at least some of the current variants following infection or vaccination. But they’re not the whole story.

Mehul S. Suthar, an author of the study Paul cited, said the results are encouraging but should not be seen as all-encompassing: “Our interpretation is that our study looks at one aspect of immune response, antibodies.”

Small Samples. Big Questions.