By Frank Long, MS, Editorial Director

Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force testified before lawmakers September 23 about the current status of response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a member of that task force, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), met with head-on questioning about the effectiveness of those measures from Sen. Rand Paul, MD.

The exchange can be seen at 1 hour and 28 minutes into CSPAN’s coverage of the testimony where Paul engages Fauci, albeit circuitously. En route to the topic of herd immunity Paul opines with a monologue that meanders through comparative global death rates, the effects of cross-reactive immunity, and the questionable actions of the “nanny state.”

I Challenge That, Senator

Four minutes after he begins speaking, Paul — an opthamologist — issues an actual question to Fauci.

The senator asks whether the NIAID director had any regrets issuing early recommendations for lockdowns and social distancing which, according to Paul, produced virtually no positive effects against the spread of COVID-19. Fauci says he does not.

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Then, edging the conversation toward herd immunity, Paul asks a follow-up question about New York falling from “the highest death rate in the world” to a test positivity rate of less than 1%. In response, Fauci credits the fall to the test positivity rate to the use of face coverings, social distancing, “outdoors more than indoors,” avoiding crowds, and hand washing.

As if to complete Fauci’s sentence, Paul adds, “Or they have developed enough community immunity that they are no longer having the pandemic…”

Fauci fires back: “I challenge that, Senator.”

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The Other Shoe Drops

Fauci continues and questions whether Paul has understood testimony given by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that New York’s “herd immunity” is roughly 22%.

Then Fauci sums bluntly, “If you believe 22% is herd immunity, I believe you’re alone in that.”

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Understanding Herd Immunity

According to a recent article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 70% to 90% of a population must become immune through natural infection or vaccination to reach herd immunity. A report from the Government Accountability Office, however, states that presently not enough is known about COVID-19 for researchers to make definitive conclusions about herd immunity to the disease.

The CDC defines community immunity (herd immunity) as follows:

“A situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community.”

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Clash of the Titans

Fauci and Paul, both physicians, have publicly disagreed over several issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to it. During a May 12 Congressional testimony Paul was critical about preventive measures Fauci endorsed that shut down schools, saying, “As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person who gets to make the decision.”

Fauci’s response was, “I never made myself out to be the end-all…I don’t give advice about economics. I only give advice about public health.”

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