Dr. Anthony Fauci talks about his career, COVID-19, and the threat of a Republican investigation against him

Dr. Fauci confirmed this week he’s stepping away from his federal role in December.
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 6:55 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Dr. Anthony Fauci is reflecting on his long career. He will step down from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the end of December.

He spoke one-on-one with Washington News Bureau reporter Jamie Bittner about the work ahead, COVID-19, and the Republican threat of an investigation against him. Read the full interview below.

Question:

“We’ve been hearing a lot from lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a lot of Republicans are already promising an investigation against you if they would retake power in Congress. How do you respond?”

Answer:

“Well, I mean, I don’t have any idea what they would want to investigate. But, I have always respected oversight authority. I think it’s an important part of government. But, I also would warn people, well not warn them, alert them that there’s a difference between legitimate and well-intentioned oversight to make things better, as opposed to character assassination, which sometimes sneaks into that little bit of oversight. So I always am very willing to cooperate in any way to help anyone understand better what has been going on over the past two and a half years.”

Question:

“When it comes to your critics, how do you think that they have hurt your messaging to the American people throughout the COVID 19 pandemic?”

Answer:

“Well, that’s tough for me to gauge. But, you know, I would think that I have always been if you look at everything I’ve said, try to get the message across, to get the public to do whatever it is best to preserve and protect the health of the American public, be that wearing masks, be that avoiding congregate settings, be that getting vaccinated and boosted. And I think when you have people out there trying to diminish someone’s credibility, the ultimate result of that is to diminish the effectiveness of the public health message. So, it’s really unfortunate that that happens, but it does.”

Question:

“I have to ask you the question everyone always asks, is COVID-19 over?”

Answer:

“No. I think you just look at the numbers and it’s obvious that it’s not. We certainly are much better off now than we were several months ago when we were having 800 to 900,000 new infections and 3000 deaths per day. We are much, much lower than that, but we’re not in a place that we can feel comfortable that it is actually behind us. We want to get it to a low enough level that it doesn’t disrupt the social order. And, that is not where we are. We can get to that much better by getting more people vaccinated and boosted. I mean, if you look at where we are right now, we’re still averaging about 100,000 cases a day, which is likely a rather significant underestimate because many people get... infected, get tested, but don’t report their positive test. The number that you can’t run away from is that we still have approximately 400 deaths per day. And if you do the math on that, that’s close to 150,000 deaths per year. We don’t want that to be the steady state at all for COVID. We’ve got to get much lower than that. And that’s the reason why we continue to encourage people to get vaccinated and those who have been vaccinated to get boosted. It’s really a shame that in our country, which is a rich and enlightened country, that we have only 67% of the entire population vaccinated. And of that, only about half have been boosted. There are so many other countries in the world, including low and middle income countries, that are doing better than we have. But the short answer to your question is no. The outbreak is not yet behind us. I hope we’re going in the right direction to get it behind us, but we’re not there yet.”

Question:

“When could we see something like COVID-19 happen again? Could it happen within our lifetime?”

Answer:

“Absolutely. You know, I have been lecturing and talking about the potential for pandemics literally for the last 40 years. In fact, if you go back and pull out lectures that I’ve given, I predicted that in every administration, and I’ve had the honor of serving and advising seven presidents over the last close to 40 years, that almost inevitably there is some form of emerging infectious disease almost in every administration. Some of them are not globally serious, but others are transforming. Like, the HIV/AIDS pandemic that we began to recognize during the administration of Ronald Reagan. Or, the pandemic flu during the Obama administration. And now spanning two administrations, we’re seeing the historic pandemic of COVID-19.”

Question:

“How do you feel your response to the AIDS epidemic helped prepare you for COVID-19?”

Answer:

“Well, any time you’ve been through the emergence of a new outbreak and realize the extraordinary unpredictability of it, there are a lot of lessons learned. I tried to make that point early on in the outbreak when I was warning that this could really get out of control and others were saying, ‘no, it’s not. It’s going to just go away in a season.’ What you learned from HIV was that you never underestimate the potential of an emerging outbreak because you never know when you first see it what its ultimate potential is. Remember with HIV, we were seeing a number of desperately ill, mostly young gay men in the United States. And, that was before we knew what the pathogen was and before we had a diagnostic test. Once we got a diagnostic test, we realized that the obviously ill people were only the tip of the iceberg of the number of people that had been infected, because, as you know, with HIV you could be infected and go for years without having serious illness that then brings you to the attention of a physician. So one of the big lessons is don’t ever underestimate the potential of a new mysterious outbreak.”

Question:

“You have a few months left on the job. What will you focus on and what is the biggest challenge that lies ahead for whoever is your predecessor?”

Answer:

”Well, I’m going to continue at full speed right up until the last day that I walk out in December. We have a lot of things. We have a lot of challenges. We have COVID. We have monkeypox. And, we have all the other things that we do from a scientific and public health standpoint. So, I’m going to be going very much full speed right until the end on the things that we’re doing now as well as we have a pandemic preparedness plan that we’ve already started on. Obviously, we need a lot more resources to really implement the plan to the extent that we want. You know, the thing that I will hope that my successor appreciates and hopefully will be able to steer this course is to stick with the science and try to the extent possible to stay away from any kind of and, you know, entrapment in the political divisiveness that we have in this country. It is very difficult to do a coherent public health and scientific endeavor when there’s such a profound degree of political divisiveness in this country, which there is.”

Question:

“How much of a say will you have on who your predecessor is?”

Answer:

None. And, I shouldn’t. I don’t think it’s appropriate that I do. What will happen is that there will be a national search by a search committee of peers who will make recommendations to the NIH Director. And the NIH Director will make that decision.”

Question:

“Take me back to your first day on the job. Can you kind of tell me what the emotions you were feeling back then (were) and compare it to now when you’re looking at your place in the history books, how would you want to be remembered?”

Answer:

“Well, I walked on to this campus 54 years ago in June of 1968, just out of my medical residency at the New York hospital Cornell Medical Center. And, this is a place that I absolutely love, every aspect of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be the director of the Institute for 38 years. So, it really has been an evolving process with me starting off as a young trainee, becoming a senior investigator, getting recognized nationally, internationally for my research and then taking over the institute and being very much involved in building the AIDS program, developing the PEPFAR program with President George W Bush. It’s been a very long and very gratifying journey. You know, I hope that I made an impact on global health both, you know, internationally and in this country. And I hope that I’ll be remembered for that.”

Question:

“What will you do in retirement?”

Answer:

“Well, it’s not retirement. I think that’s a very misleading word. I think it’s more of a rewiring. One of the reasons I’m leaving now is because I still have the energy and the motivation and the good health and the passion to do more for the global health and scientific enterprise. And I think the best way I can do that, given my almost six decades of experience and almost four decades of leading the institute that I hopefully by reading and writing and lecturing and getting involved in different projects that I could serve as an inspiration for the younger generation of scientists and would be scientists to perhaps consider a career in public service, particularly in the arena of public health, medicine and science. So, I have no intention of retiring. So, you’re not going to see me on the golf course or lying on a beach somewhere.”

Dr. Fauci sits down with me to talk about his long career & his decision to step down. Plus, he tells me what he thinks about that Republican threat of an investigation against him. Read his full interview & what he'll do next. https://bit.ly/3Rfqmfy Gray Television Washington News Bureau National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Posted by Jamie Bittner on Friday, August 26, 2022

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