WASHINGTON — During a Senate committee meeting Thursday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul went head-to-head with infectious disease expert and White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci over continued mask-wearing after vaccination.
Fauci argued that prematurely pulling back on strict mask-wearing amid the vaccine rollout and dropping case numbers could trigger another surge.
By encouraging people to wear a mask while vaccinated, Paul claimed Fauci was "defying everything we know about immunity." The senator said there is "no science" to indicate a mask is necessary after being vaccinated for the virus.
Paul added that Fauci should encourage vaccinated people to wear a mask by offering them some sort of reward instead of telling them mask-wearing will simply be expected of them moving forward.
"Give them a reward instead of telling them that the nanny state's gonna be there for three more years and you got to wear a mask forever," he said. "People don't want to hear it, there's no science behind it."
Fauci tried to rebut when he said, "Well, let me just state for the record that masks are not theater, masks are protective."
But he was cut off by Paul who interjected, "If we have immunity they are theater, if you already have immunity, you're wearing a mask to give comfort to others, you're not wearing a mask because of any science."
The disagreement, according to Fauci, was over the lack of understanding of the COVID-19 variants. Because of the number of variants currently circulating, Fauci said the country is not dealing with a static situation of the same virus, therefore the vaccine might not be effective against all of its forms.
CDC Director Dr. Rochell Walensky echoed Fauci's stance, noting that the average daily death rate is still twice that of the rate from last September.
"While we have recently seen reductions in cases and deaths we must remain cautious," he said. "We are in a race to stop transmission and the emergence of variants that spread more easily has made this even more challenging."
Fauci also said the country might not be as close to herd immunity as some would like to believe. He estimates roughly 70 to 85 percent of the population would be to be vaccinated to reach that goal, which would require many more children start getting vaccinated. If that happens, Fauci said herd immunity might still not be reached until the fall.
"We should be careful about wedding ourselves to this concept of herd immunity," he said.