Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force
The tragic coronavirus pandemic that has engulfed the world may have made public-health authorities into household names, but Dr. Anthony Fauci was recognized as the country’s leading champion of sound public-health advice long before the current outbreak.
Fauci is now in his 36th year as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The role has seen him advise multiple U.S. presidents through crises ranging from anthrax and SARS to MERS and Ebola.
Those who have served alongside him say he’s by far the most effective communicator the government has, not to mention one of its finest public servants. He has proved himself able to handle nearly any media appearance; members of the media and the public alike trust him to give sound advice.
But President Donald Trump? That’s another story. Consider this past summer’s effort by the Trump administration to malign and marginalize Fauci, despite the fact that he’s the White House’s own coronavirus adviser.
Actions included the publication of a hostile USA Today op-ed by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro; a Facebook post by Trump aide Dan Scavino that caricatured the immunologist as a “Dr. Faucet” who leaks his disagreements; the leak of a bulleted list of the times he “has been wrong” that was supplied to reporters (and that some outlets described as “opposition research” on a political opponent); and regular Twitter critiques by Trump himself, many of which accused him of misleading the country.
To be sure, Fauci isn’t always right — he initially downplayed the value of masks, for instance. But he tells it like it is, an approach that has sometimes put him at odds with the president. They contradicted each other around vaccine arrival timelines (Fauci: 2021; Trump: by Election Day) and coronavirus longevity (Fauci: It will probably never go away entirely; Trump: The virus will “disappear”). In late July, Trump called Fauci an “alarmist,” to which Fauci responded, “I consider myself more of a realist.”
While those disagreements have come to a head, Fauci has never gotten flustered, whether in September’s Senate hearings on the coronavirus response or in any number of heated conversations. And there have been plenty of them, as the U.S. death toll from the virus has surpassed an unfathomable 225,000.
The latest controversy around Fauci involves whether the American public will be able to trust a potential coronavirus vaccine. This most recent contretemps surfaced when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stated vaccine deadline of November 1 raised concerns that the White House was pressuring regulators to get a shot to market ahead of Election Day.
Like clockwork, there was Fauci on CNN, reassuring viewers that any approval of a COVID-19 vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration won’t be motivated by politics.
He’s cool, calm and collected — as one would hope and expect the country’s top infectious-disease expert to be. And he’s Exhibit A that, if the country is to effectively combat this crisis, whoever’s in the White House come 2021 must do a better job of trusting in and deferring to the public-health authorities.