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The strange story of Anthony Fauci
There are reasons to distrust the pandemic czar. They're not what you see on social media.
Anthony Fauci is one of the most polarizing figures in America today. Most recently, a prominent Fox News host was castigated for saying that activists should “ambush” Fauci and go for the “kill shot.” Many on the right associate him with policies — lockdowns, vaccine mandates, gain of function research, etc. — that they fiercely oppose.
Interestingly, however, some animal rights activists have also had a bone to pick with Fauci. The White Coat Waste Project has, for the past few months, been attacking Fauci for his support for animal experiments, including a gruesome experiment where beagle puppies were essentially fed to sand flies. The Washington Post responded with a long piece that supposedly debunked Fauci’s connection to animal experiments. )But consider my friend Leighton Woodhouse’s excellent piece showing that, for Fauci, support for vivisection goes back many decades.)
I don’t have much to say about most of these debates, other than that it’s unfortunate that dialogue seems to have become so poisoned that folks can’t talk to one another. I do, however, have a position on Fauci: I do not trust him. But not because of anything that has been commonly stated in the media.
There are reasons I admire him. He’s been a public servant in a tough job for decades. He understands science. And he did the right thing for AIDS and gay rights activists in the early 1990s, albeit after immense public pressure. But at the end of the day, key public figures need to be transparent and honest in their statements. And this is where, I think, Fauci failed.
There was first the debacle over face masks. In the earliest days of the pandemic, the authorities argued that most people didn’t need face masks because there was no evidence they protected anyone. This research turned out to be wrong, and many epidemiologists at the time knew it was probably wrong. But Fauci and others at the CDC apparently decided to stick to their original position on face masks to ensure health care workers had a good supply. That’s a worthwhile objective, but not the right means of achieving it.
The bigger problem with trust, however, came from Fauci’s statements about herd immunity. When the vaccine was initially released in late 2020, Fauci stated that herd immunity could be reached when perhaps 60% of the American public adopted the vaccine. But as the numbers of vaccinated went up, Fauci’s statements strangely went higher. Here is what he said to The New York Times:
"When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent," Fauci said. "Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, 'I can nudge this up a bit,' so I went to 80, 85."
This bizarre statement did not make much media, beyond an important op ed by a leading medical school professor in Med Page Today. But it showed a disturbing willingness to adapt the truth to the convenience of the moment. And, to the extent the public is to trust what we are told by public health professionals, this sort of manipulation can’t stand.