Dr Anthony Fauci has defended himself against accusations of ‘flip flopping’ over mask mandates, insisting that his recommendations evolved with new evidence and arguing that an attack on him is an attack on science.
Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been strongly criticized for initially saying that face masks were not effective, and then reversing course and saying they were essential to stop the spread of COVID-19.
‘It is essential as a scientist that you evolve your opinion and your recommendations based on the data as it evolves,’ he told Kara Swisher for her podcast Sway, in excerpts obtained by Axios.
Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke to podcast host Kara Swisher of The New York Times for her show Sway, which airs on Monday
Swisher asked the 80-year-old how he felt about the criticism of him ‘flip flopping’ on mask mandates
‘And that’s the reason why I say people who then criticize me about that are actually criticizing science.’
He added: ‘The people who are giving the ad hominems are saying, ‘Ah, Fauci misled us. First he said no masks, then he said masks.’
‘Well, let me give you a flash. That’s the way science works. You work with the data you have at the time.’
Republican critics are calling for Fauci, who is now Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, to be fired.
Yet the 80-year-old public health expert insisted, in conversation with Swisher for her New York Times podcast, that he stood by his declarations.
‘It was not a change because I felt like flip-flopping. It was a change because the evidence changed, the data changed.
‘It isn’t a question of being wrong. It’s a question of going with the data as you have, and being humble enough and flexible enough to change with the data.’
Fauci, seen at a May 26 hearing in Congress to discuss the budget for his NIAID, has spent four decades as the nation’s top public health expert
Fauci, who has been a leading voice in public health for four decades, said he pays little attention to either the adoration he generates, or the attacks.
Retailers were doing a roaring trade during the pandemic in deities with Fauci’s face on them, and candles fit for a Fauci shrine.
The feeling was equally strong on the other side, however, and in April 2020 he was given bodyguards.
After 37 years in his job, Fauci said puts ‘very little weight in the adulation, and very little weight in the craziness of condemning me.’
He added: ‘It gets preposterous, and the thing that bothers you most of all is the impact it has on your family.
‘I mean, getting death threats and getting your daughters and your wife threatened with obscene notes and threatening notes is not fun. So I can’t say that doesn’t bother me.
How Fauci flip-flopped on the origins of COVID
April 2020: Fauci repeatedly made public statements suggesting that that COVID was the result of an ‘unusual human-animal interface’ in a Chinese ‘wet market’ and that ‘the mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.’
May 2020: Still adamant that he didn’t believe the coronavirus was man-made. ‘If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated,’ he told National Geographic in an exclusive interview published May 4, 2020. ‘Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.’
Late May 2021 to early June 2021: During an event called ‘United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking,’ Fauci was asked if was ‘still confident’ that the virus evolved naturally.
‘No, actually … I am not convinced about that. I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened,’ Fauci said. ‘Certainly, the people who investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else, and we need to find that out.’
He added: ‘So, you know, that’s the reason why I said I’m perfectly in favor of any investigation that looks into the origin of the virus.’
‘The more extreme they get, the more obvious how political it is: ‘Fauci has blood in his hands.’
‘Are you kidding me? Here’s a guy whose entire life has been devoted to saving lives, and now you’re telling me he’s like Hitler? You know, come on, folks. Get real.’
Fauci has previously attempted to explain that his recommendations evolved as the scientific thinking changed – leading to furious attacks from conservative pundits.
Earlier this month they laid into him, sarcastically branding him King Tony Fauci, after the immunologist suggested that attacks on him were ‘attacks on science.’
‘The man does think he’s some kind of deity,’ said Laura Ingraham on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle.
‘His argument is essentially… ‘I am the science! I am the truth!’ she scoffed.
Fellow Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson called him ‘King Tony Fauci’ for the doctor’s self-aggrandizing comments.
‘Normal people don’t talk that way,’ he said.
‘It’s not Fauci who just believes he is immune. You are not allowed to say anything negative about him or the culture revolution.’
Sean Hannity, likewise seized on Fauci’s remarks, saying that he ‘got really p*ssed off, very defensive, even indignant, trying to claim any criticism of him is a criticism of science.’
Fauci’s remarks seemingly equating himself with science also unleashed a wave of scorn on Twitter, with critics on the right calling the veteran doctor a ‘petty tyrant’ with a God complex.
The doctor’s comments and the ensuing firestorm came after Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton called on Fauci to resign, or face termination, arguing that he misled the American people on the origins of COVID-19 and the use of face masks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘It’s very dangerous, because a lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science because all of the things that I have spoken about consistently from the very beginning have been fundamentally based on science,’ Fauci told NBC’s Chuck Todd.
‘Sometimes those things were inconvenient truths for people, and there was pushback against me.
‘So if you are trying to get at me as a public health official, you’re really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you are attacking science.
‘And anybody that looks at what is going on clearly sees that,’ Fauci concluded.
‘You have to be asleep not to see that.
‘Science and the truth are being attacked.’
The comments come as Republican legislators ramp up their attacks against the director of the NIAID after Buzzfeed News published thousands of his emails since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, which critics claim shows him flip-flopping on the issues.
In one email, he told a woman who was traveling in late February 2020 that she does not need to wear a mask.
‘Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected, rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,’ he wrote in the leaked email.
‘The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out the virus, which is small enough to pass through the material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.’
‘I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low-risk location.’
The comments come amid claims that Fauci flip-flopped on his stance on masks, claiming in an email to a woman in February 2020 that they are ‘not really effective in keeping out the virus’
In his June 9 NBC interview, Fauci said he was acting on the information he had at the time, when officials believed there was a mask shortage, people were not sure masks would work outside of a hospital setting and were unaware COVID-19 could be spread through asymptomatic carriers.
Fauci said the ‘entire CDC was saying the same thing’ at the time, but eventually data came back and showed that mask-wearing helped reduce the spread and more than half of the coronavirus cases in the United States were being spread though asymptomatic contact.
‘That’s when we said we’ve got to get people to wear masks,’ he said.
‘You’ve got to be guided by the science and the current data,’ Fauci said, noting: ‘People want to fire me or put me in jail for what I’ve done – namely follow the science. It’s preposterous.’
Fauci has also come under scrutiny for a $830,000 grant the NIAID gave the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to study the risk that bat coronaviruses could infect humans.
Fauci defended the grant in a congressional hearing last month, saying the money was meant to be used to ‘study the animal-human interface, to do surveillance and to determine if these bat viruses were even capable of’ infecting humans.
He cited comments made by Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, who said that the American tax dollars that went to the Wuhan lab – where many officials now believe COVID-19 originated – was not approved for gain-of-function research, which is research that involves modifying a virus to make it more infectious among humans.
But, Collins said, the National Institute of Health would not be aware of other experiments being done at the lab.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology is one of only a handful in the world that is cleared to handle Class 4 pathogens — dangerous viruses that pose a high risk of person-to-person transmission. Recently, Fauci admitted granting the lab money to study the risk that bat coronaviruses could infect humans
In one of the leaked emails, it appeared Fauci was warned as early as January 31 by another infectious disease expert, Kristian G. Andersen, that the virus could have leaked from the lab and been altered.
In the email, Andersen referenced a Science magazine article about how researchers around the world were racing to share ‘full sequences of the virus from patients’ to understand how it related to viruses found in animals.
‘The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered,’ he wrote.
At the time, the lab leak hypothesis was largely dismissed by many experts.
It has recently gained traction.