Features Australia

Fauci reads and reaps the political wind

On the mutating variants of bureaucratic advice

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

29 May 2021

9:00 AM

Americans’ trust in public health institutions has slipped from over 80 to 52 per cent since the start of the pandemic. A big reason for the fall is the constantly mutating variants of the official narrative on the do’s and don’ts of the pandemic, with no better example than Dr Anthony Fauci. In the bestseller Faucian Bargain, Steven Deace and Todd Erzen describe the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and senior adviser to President Joe Biden as ‘the most powerful and dangerous bureaucrat in American history’. Fauci has been a health bureaucrat his entire professional life and never practised medicine. He joined the NIAID on completing his medical residency in 1968 and became its director in 1984. The long tenure as CEO is a violation of a core tenet of institutional good governance. The spirit of Washington is so deeply infused in him that he’s learnt to duck, weave, evade and deflect like the most skilful politicians in swamp city. Pressed by congressman Jim Jordan on 15 April, Fauci refused to put a number on the infections that would permit Americans to get their lives back, or a date by which the US might return to the pre-pandemic normal.

Fauci has probably been the most influential player in pushing Covid panic and lockdowns in the US, often based on pop science and promoted mostly through channel-hopping TV interviews on fawning media. He’s chalked up over 300 media interviews in the past year! Unfortunately this also means he’s left behind a cache of statements as hostage to fortune, such as praise for New York’s Covid performance, and now finds himself facing unaccustomed and uncomfortable scrutiny.

Lionised by much of the media as an ‘American hero’ who stood up to President Donald Trump for ‘science’, he is currently embroiled in a controversy over NIAID funding going to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), via the EcoHealth Alliance, for ‘gain-of-function’ research that’s prohibited in the US to study bat-human transmission of coronavirus. (The project was cancelled in April 2020.) EcoHealth director Peter Daszak was the sole US representative on the WHO whitewash of – sorry, inquiry into – the origins of the virus.

In an interview with the Straits Times in May 2020, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan was adamant that, based on genome markers, the novel coronavirus was not synthesised in a lab: ‘What we do know is that this is a naturally occurring virus, that it was not artificially synthesised in the lab’. However, in a long and explosive article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (5 May), the well-credentialled science writer Nicholas Wade credibly explains that the most likely origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is an accidental leak from the WIV lab.

Fauci’s pronouncements appear to be based on his readings of the public and political mood. He proved immensely elastic on herd immunity threshold, admitting in an interview with the New York Times (24 December) to adjusting his estimate to a judgment of what the current political and public mood was prepared to hear. He began with 70 per cent vaccination coverage but, once vaccines became available, the figure increased to 80-85 per cent in December.

Why the change of mind? Because of ‘his gut feeling that the country is finally ready to hear what he really thinks’. In January 2020, he said Covid-19 ‘is a very low risk to the US. It isn’t something the American people need to be frightened of’. On 26 March he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that Covid-19 might ‘ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza’. But on 11 March he told Congress that the disease was ‘10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu’. Ever since, consumed by fame and rock star celebrity status and aided by a complicit media that saw its ratings rise as fast as the infection curve during its exponential growth phase, Fauci has made a career of flip-flopping – on masks, double masking, herd immunity, asymptomatic transmission, immunity against reinfections – with no discernible sense of embarrassment, trusting instead to the amnesia of his media and fan base.

On 24 January 2020, Fauci dismissed the possibility of lockdowns in the US, firstly because America wasn’t an authoritarian system like China and secondly ‘because historically when you shut things down it doesn’t have a major effect’.

Yet on 15 March he reversed himself, backed lockdown and soon 43 of 50 states were in lockdown. Phillip Magness comments that Fauci’s appeal to ‘alarmism’ provides him with ‘a pretext for continuing the same failed lockdown policies he has been peddling for over a year’. When Governor Greg Abbott announced the complete reopening of Texas on 3 March, Fauci warned the ‘ill-advised’ and ‘inexplicable’ decision  would lead to ‘another surge’. The state’s seven-day rolling average of daily new Covid deaths had plummeted from 226 since then to 40. Fauci told Governor Noem that South Dakota should expect 10,000 Covid hospitalisations for rejecting lockdowns; its peak was just over 600. In February, Fauci said that even after receiving the second vaccine, people should exercise caution about dining out or going to the movies. He also thinks masking may still be prevalent in 2022.

‘Dr Fauci is probably the number one anti-vaxxer’, says Jay Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist and statistician at the Stanford Medical School. Fauci, ‘utterly blind to the collateral damage from a lockdown, including our liberty but also our other health needs’, will not be satisfied with a number ‘other than zero’. His utterances make people think vaccines won’t give you back your life, so why bother? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis agrees that people who get the vaccine are immune and so they should ‘act immune’.

Meanwhile the plot thickens about the WIV’s role. In two articles on 23-24 May, the Wall Street Journal detailed fresh US intelligence assessments based on three WIV researchers who fell sick enough with the flu in November 2019 to require hospitalisation, making this potentially the first known Covid cluster. The chances of three researchers in a highly protected lab falling so sick in the same week randomly are vanishingly thin. When Republican Senator Tom Cotton suggested early last year that the virus might have come from the Wuhan lab, he was buried under a media pile-on for peddling conspiracy theories.

Stephen Miller calls in The Speccie for Fauci to answer for his role in funding the Wuhan lab and says he must go. It may be that Fauci has immunised himself against being relieved of the NIAID directorship by Biden with his history of fighting against Trump. Or – whisper it softly – perhaps the explanation is even simpler: the 78-year old Biden may like having the 80-year old Fauci in office to deflect unstilled suspicions about his own mental agility.

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