One of President Donald Trump’s smartest moves in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was naming Dr. Anthony Fauci to the White House’s coronavirus task force. The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci is a public health hero who has led the agency through six presidents and won’t bend the facts or deny science to appease egos.
He didn’t do it when he warned President Ronald Reagan that HIV was a serious public health threat that required fast federal action. And he’s not doing it now as he stands with Trump at regular task-force briefings, sometimes contradicting or correcting the misleading information coming from his commander in chief.
In a meeting with pharmaceutical officials earlier this month, Trump repeatedly insisted he was hearing that a coronavirus vaccine would be ready in just a few months. Finally, Fauci stepped in. “Would you make sure you get the president the information that a vaccine that you make and start testing in a year is not a vaccine that’s deployable,” he said to the pharmaceutical executives. “And that is going to be, at the earliest, a year to a year and a half, no matter how fast you go. “
More recently, Fauci has poured cold water on Trump’s enthusiasm for the potential of an anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, to treat COVID-19 patients. As Fauci has pointed out, the evidence of the medicine’s ability to safely and effectively treat COVID-19 patients is still just anecdotal.
Fauci also has been a leading advocate of the restrictions on movement and commerce that have cratered the economy, to Trump’s growing frustration.
It really is quite remarkable, given the president’s limited tolerance for aides who upstage or contradict him, that he has put up with what may seem to him like brazen insolence. The evident conflicts, along with rumors among White House aides, have led to speculation that Fauci may be on the way out, although both Trump and Fauci have downplayed any perceived tension between them.
We certainly hope that the president is not thinking of sidelining Fauci. In a massive public health crisis like this one, the best experts and the most credible scientists need to be on the dais with the president, telling us all bluntly what we need to know. So far, to his credit, Trump — whose disrespect for both science and facts in the past has been well documented — has stood by Fauci, even when the doctor has disagreed with him.
The simple reality is that when it comes to the science behind outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, there are few experts equal to Fauci. The 79-year-old has been at the forefront of the federal responses to a series of viruses that have threatened the nation, including Ebola and two recent coronavirus outbreaks, SARS and MERS.
Surely the president knows he has more to lose than to gain if Fauci’s fact-based, cautious and authoritative analyses were absent from the table as we continue to fight this pandemic.
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