TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Roger Marshall won’t let people forget he’s a doctor, putting “Doc” in the letterhead of his US Senate office’s news releases. But when he talks about COVID-19 vaccines, some doctors and experts say the Kansas Republican sounds far more like a politician than a physician.
He’s made statements about vaccines and immunity that defy both medical consensus and official US government guidance. He’s aggressively fighting President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements, arguing they’ll infringe on people’s liberties and wreck the economy. He’s acknowledged experimenting on himself with an unproven treatment for warding off the Coronavirus.
Marshall’s positions are pushing the first-term senator and obstetrician closer to the medical fringe. But he has company in other GOP doctors, dentists and pharmacists in Congress, several of whom have also spread sketchy medical advice when it comes to the pandemic.
Critics say the lawmakers’ statements are dangerous and unethical, and that Marshall’s medical degree confers a perception of expertise that carries weight with constituents and other members of Congress.
“He has an enormous role to play here because he’s a doctor and a senator,” said Arthur Caplan, founder of New York University’s medical ethics division and director of a vaccine ethics program. “He bears a very powerful responsibility to get it right.”
Marshall says he is fully vaccinated and has said he’s urged his parents recently to get booster shots. He and other GOP doctors in Congress appeared in a public service campaign in April to encourage people to get vaccinated.
But that was before Biden’s vaccine mandates fired up the party’s conservative base and had activists predicting that grassroots opposition could help drive Republicans into power in Congress in 2022. It also was before schools reopened for the fall and angry parents flocked to school Board meetings to protest mask mandates.
“Off-year elections are all about turning out your base,” said Gregg Keller, a St. Louis-area GOP strategist who’s worked for conservative groups and US Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “Republicans are fired up.”
Recent polling shows about half of Americans — just enough for a majority — favor requiring workers in large companies to get vaccinated or tested weekly. Biden also is requiring the military, government contractors and health care workers to get vaccinated.
But perhaps crucially for Marshall and other Republicans, the polling also showed people are deeply split based on their political party. About six in 10 Republicans opposed the mandate for workers, according to the survey by The Associated Press and NORC-Center for Public Affairs Research.
Marshall positioned himself as a stalwart Trump supporter in winning his Senate seat last year. The two-term congressman from western Kansas ran against a Democrat and retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist hewing to public health orthodoxy on COVID-19.