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In an explosive Senate hearing on March 18, Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul over a subject that has characterized much of the White House health adviser’s recent commentary on Covid-19: the specter of reinfection, caused by one of the emerging variants of the virus.
Several recent studies suggest that both natural and vaccine-induced immunity to Covid-19 is robust at least for the medium term, and even those hinting at possible reinfections suggest it is a rare phenomenon mainly afflicting people with severely weakened immune systems.
Fauci nonetheless maintains that reinfections, particularly from the South African variant of the virus, are not only commonplace but justify maintaining a suite of restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI) such as lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing regulations – perhaps even for another year.
Paul pressed Fauci to cite the scientific literature supporting this claim, to no avail. Instead, Fauci deflected the question by repeating platitudes about masks and exaggerating a recent study about reinfections. According to Fauci, previously recovered people who “were exposed to the variant in South Africa” reacted “as if they had never been infected before. They had no protection.”
A Danish study that Fauci later referenced to justify this assertion made no such claim about reinfection being widespread. Quite the contrary, its authors concluded “that protection against repeat SARS-CoV-2 infection is robust and detectable in the majority of individuals, protecting 80% or more of the naturally infected population who are younger than 65 years against reinfections.”
They did further observe “that individuals aged 65 years and older had less than 50% protection against repeat SARS-CoV-2 infection” and recommended targeted vaccinations for this group to bolster immunity. But even this finding came with several acknowledged limitations, as the study was not designed to test for repeat infection among the vast number of mild or asymptomatic cases of the disease, or to directly verify whether suspected reinfection cases were the result of misclassified lingering infections.
The study did not,