Anti-vaxx Republican senator wants you to gargle the coronavirus away

Anti-vaxx Republican senator wants you to gargle the coronavirus away
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Wikipedia

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Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has a hot new suggestion for stopping the coronavirus in its tracks, and the best thing that can be said for it is … at least he didn’t suggest bleach. No, Johnson suggested mouthwash instead.

“There are things you can do: Vitamin D, you know, zinc, keep yourself healthy, vitamin C—by the way, standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus,” Johnson said during a Wednesday town hall meeting, according to a recording shared on Twitter by a local radio station. “If you get it, you may reduce viral replication. Why not try all these things? It just boggles my mind that the NIH continues to tell people ‘Do nothing, you know, maybe take Tylenol.’”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), in fact, tells people to get vaccinated, along with a long list of possible treatments. But about that mouthwash.

Johnson subsequently linked to a study of 176 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 but were asymptomatic or only mildly ill. They were given mouthwash regularly for seven days, with the study concluding that the mouthwash “appears to provide a modest benefit compared with placebo in reducing viral load in saliva.”

That’s interesting, but you know what definitely provides more than a modest benefit compared with placebo in reducing viral load in more parts of the body than just saliva? Vaccines, which Johnson has repeatedly expressed suspicion of, to the point of being suspended from YouTube for spreading disinformation.

Mouthwash? Maybe it can reduce the virus levels specifically in your saliva, but, “Even if gargling kills some of the virus, it won’t be able to clean the nasal area, nor the viruses that’s already penetrated deeper into the body,” Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease expert at Korea University, told The Washington Post. And no, that part about cleaning the nasal area is not a suggestion to waterboard yourself with Listerine.

On a site for health care professionals, Listerine details studies involving mouthwash, stating, “We are aware of several ongoing, independent clinical trials where LISTERINE® is being assessed in patients with COVID-19. However, the current available data is not sufficient to support a conclusion that the use of LISTERINE® mouthwash is helpful against the COVID-19 virus. As a company firmly rooted in science, we are committed to advancing research in oral and public health.” Listerine is made by Johnson & Johnson, a company which, of course, also has a vaccine—and while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not the most effective one out there, it is far, far, far more effective than Listerine. Or vitamin D. Or zinc. Or generic wellness.

It is so very, very special that here we are, with vaccines that are very effective at preventing severe illness even if delta and omicron have reduced their effectiveness at preventing any infection at all, and a United States senator is suggesting mouthwash. Death rates in Republican-voting counties are far higher than those in counties that vote for Democrats as vaccination rates among Republicans lag, but Republican politicians like Johnson are still promoting a line that will make it more likely for their own supporters to die horrible, painful deaths. The only good thing that can be said about Johnson’s mouthwash suggestion is that mouthwash is not going to harm anyone. But it’s not going to protect them, either, so suggesting it in place of the thing that will protect them is itself harmful. Ron Johnson has already shown that he doesn’t care if he causes harm, though, so it’s no big surprise.

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