/CDC director: Fauci and I are easy targets for anger about COVID

CDC director: Fauci and I are easy targets for anger about COVID

  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky sat down for an exclusive interview with Insider, one year into her new job.
  • She called the pandemic a “natural disaster,” but says we “can use science to try and cope” and improve the situation.
  • But “many people want somebody to blame,” she said, making her an “easy target” for hate.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky have both been blamed for a lot since the pandemic began. 

Fauci, who directs the US infectious disease response at the National Institutes of Health, heads up the massive federal agency that helps develop new vaccines and treatments.

Walensky, who’s been at the helm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a year now, runs the agency that tallies up who’s getting sick and who’s dying from COVID-19, in addition to measuring how well vaccines are working, and making recommendations for schools, hospitals, businesses, and individuals across the country about the best ways to stay safe from the virus. 

Fauci has spoken openly about the hate mail, suspicious powders, and threatening calls he and his family have received during the pandemic. He says the divisiveness and raw hatred he sees today is far worse than any of the protests or deaths threats he was on the receiving end of during the HIV crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me,” he said earlier this month during a US Senate hearing.

Speaking to Insider on her first anniversary at the helm of the CDC, Walensky said Fauci’s experience “resonates with me.”

Walensky says there’s a simple, psychological reason why some people are so eager to point a finger and threaten her and Fauci. 

Fauci and I are the ‘easy targets’ for people who want ‘somebody to blame,’ Walensky said

dr walensky leans over, masked, to speak to dr fauci, also masked

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the NIAID, on January 11, 2022 in Washington.

Greg Nash / AFP via Getty Images

“Certainly, there are people who are unhappy,” she told Insider, during our exclusive Q&A, alluding to the toll the pandemic has taken on the nation’s mental health, and the hit it has delivered to our collective economic and social stability. “Many people want somebody to blame. And so we become easy targets, right?” 

Walensky and Fauci aren’t the only ones.

During the pandemic, many nurses, doctors, and public health officials in charge of pandemic response in states and cities across the country have been quitting in droves, and many said on their way out the door that they’d simply had enough of all the hate and death threats.

“If you equate this pandemic to a natural disaster, which is what I think it is, we have many different ways that we can use science to try and cope and to improve outcomes, improve life, life expectancy, survival from this natural disaster,” Walensky said. 

She acknowledged that the agency still has room for improvement in its COVID-19 response, both in terms of clear and honest communication to the public, and in speeding up the science that undergirds new recommendations, and shifts in guidance. 

“We even have to act in times where we have imperfect information, because the situation is imperfect,” she said. 

“I want to read and hear the criticism, but I also want to make sure that it’s balanced by all these incredible people who have been here to support me.” 

Read our full interview with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky here.

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