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Paul, speaking to radio host John Catsimatidis on WABC 77 AM on Wednesday, said he’s choosing not to get vaccinated because he contracted the coronavirus back in March 2020. He was the first senator to test positive for COVID-19.
“Until they show me evidence that people who have already had the infection are dying in large numbers, or being hospitalized or getting very sick, I just made my own personal decision that I’m not getting vaccinated because I’ve already had the disease and I have natural immunity,” Paul said.
“In a free country you would think people would honor the idea that each individual would get to make the medical decision, that it wouldn’t be a big brother coming to tell me what I have to do,” he added.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who have had COVID-19 and recovered still get vaccinated if they’re eligible.
“That’s because experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19,” according to the CDC’s website. “Even if you have already recovered from COVID-19, it is possible ― although rare ― that you could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 again.”
About 10% of the U.S. population has tested positive for COVID-19 and survived, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, though public health experts have said the numbers of infections is likely vastly underreported.
As of Sunday, roughly 39% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. However, vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks. To reach herd immunity, around 70% of the U.S. population ― or roughly 200 million people ― would need to be immune from the coronavirus, experts have said, though some are now saying an even higher percentage is required.
Paul, an ophthalmologist, has been one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of government restrictions amid the pandemic, including mask mandates.
He has repeatedly criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., over his role in the country’s response to the pandemic. Earlier this month, during a congressional hearing on COVID-19, Paul baselessly accused Fauci of supporting the use of National Institutes of Health funds to support the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect,” Fauci said. “The NIH has not ever, and does not now, fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.