- Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke to Politico about the challenges of working with the White House during an outbreak.
- Fauci said people in his position often have to fight the temptation “to tell the president what you think he wants to hear.”
- Fauci is one of the leading infectious disease experts aiding in the US response to the coronavirus outbreak.
- He denied reports that the Trump administration had ordered him not to speak out about the outbreak.
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A day after The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had ordered Dr. Anthony Fauci not to speak publicly about the coronavirus outbreak without permission, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spoke about the difficulty of working with the White House during an outbreak.
Fauci, who is helping to orchestrate the US response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, told Politico on Friday that he has not been “muzzled”, but admitted that he has been asked to clear interviews ever since Vice President Mike Pence was made coronavirus czar.
And over the weekend, it wasn’t Fauci or doctors like him being asked to explain the situation on the Sunday talk shows, but Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
In his 35 years as head of the NIAID, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, Fauci has worked with six presidential administrations, and explained the difficulties of working with politicians to come up with the right messaging in the face of outbreaks like Zika, Ebola, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“You should never destroy your own credibility. And you don’t want to go to war with a president,” Fauci told Politico’s Sarah Owermohle. “But you got to walk the fine balance of making sure you continue to tell the truth.”
He said politicians can sometimes make an outbreak worse in their attempts to stop mass panic.
“It’s really, really tough because you have to be honest with the American public and you don’t want to scare the hell out of them,” Fauci said. “And then other times, in attempts to calm people down, [leaders] have had people be complacent about it. This is particularly problematic in a ‘gotcha’ town like Washington.”
The Trump administration has faced criticism for its response to the coronavirus outbreak, with many feeling that the president undersold the seriousness of the issue by saying the threat to Americans is low and a vaccine will be ready in months.
Fauci himself has had to correct the president on the latter statement, saying that a vaccine is at least a year away, and more likely a year and a half.
As of Tuesday, six people had died of coronavirus in the US, all of them in Washington State. There are currently more than 100 cases domestically.