Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is back with another claim about Covid-19 unsupported by available evidence.
The Republican senator and ally of former President Donald Trump took to a tele-town hall, Twitter and a right-wing talk show to describe how mouthwash is supposedly effective in killing or greatly reducing the viral load in saliva after 30 seconds of exposure.
“[T]he [National Institutes of Health] had posted a study that most standard mouthwashes…have an ingredient in there that can reduce the viral load in your mouth,” Mr Johnson said this week in an interview with Vicki McKenna, a radio host who has shared articles referring to the Covid-19 vaccine as a “dead baby vaccine”.
“Standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus,” he added during the town hall. “If you get it, you may reduce viral replication. Why not try all these things?”
Mr Johnson’s theory has been backed up by several studies, but importantly not tested in clinical trial settings.
For that reason, despite the senator’s claims, two of the leading mouthwash brands have extensive web pages on their company sites deterring customers from thinking that they are effective preventative measures against the virus. Mouthwashes are antimicrobial, meaning they are designed to fight bacteria, not viruses.
“While many of our mouthwashes have been proven to kill bad breath germs … [n]one of our mouthwash products have been tested against the coronavirus and are not intended to prevent or treat COVID-19,” reads a statement on Crest’s website, which adds: “Consumers should follow the preventative measures recommended by their health care provider.”
Listerine’s website is even more specific: “Although there are recent lab-based reports (in vitro studies) of some LISTERINE® Mouthwashes having activity against enveloped viruses, including coronavirus, the available data is insufficient, and no evidence-based clinical conclusions can be drawn with regards to the anti-viral efficacy of LISTERINE® Antiseptic mouthwash at this time.” The website has made such information available since March of 2020, according to a company spokesperson.
A spokesperson for the senator’s office shared a statement from Mr Johnson with The Independent on Thursday which claimed that he did not mean to imply that mouthwash could be an effective substitute for receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. The statement notably did not mention mask-wearing, which Mr Johnson has derided as not useful against Covid-19 despite studies on the NIH website stating otherwise.
“I did not say that taking vitamins, using mouthwash, would be a replacement for the vaccine, should you choose to get one,” said the senator. “There are multiple studies that say, mouthwash may reduce viral load, including on the NIH website, ‘this trial supports using CDCM on day 1 to reduce the SARS-CoV-2 viral load in saliva.’”
“I continued to be amazed at the resistance to anything that might reduce the severity of Covid-19 symptoms,” he continued.
Mr Johnson previously stated that he would not get the Covid-19 vaccine because he had already contracted the disease, though it is possible to be reinfected with the virus and some Americans have died after recovering from Covid-19 and becoming infected again.
Last year, he was crticised by The Washington Post after falsely suggesting that natural immunity is “as strong, if not stronger, than vaccinated immunity”. Vaccinated immunity to Covid-19 has been proven to be more effective against the virus, especially new variants, for a longer period of time than natural antibodies created after one survives a Covid-19 infection.