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In the last few years, the percentage of adults in the United States who have a “great deal of confidence” in medical scientists has fallen to less than a third, a trend that Dr. Anthony Fauci says he hopes does not last.
“We’re living right now into what I think is a growing anti-science attitude,” the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden said Monday on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” “We’ve seen that growing over the past few years, and it’s reaching a point now with COVID, where some very obvious scientific truths based on clear cut, very visible data are rejected by people. The anti-science atmosphere that many of us have experienced is very troubling.”
Fauci said if there ever was a time to form opinions based on data and facts, it’s now.
“We’re living in an era where the normalization of untruths is just so much part of what we live with,” he said. “It’s so prevalent, the denial of reality, conspiracy theories about vaccinations. It’s stunning how distorted that is. I mean, that’s bad in and of itself, but when it gets in the way of the proper and appropriate response to a deadly outbreak, it becomes even more tragic.”
Fauci said social media, which he described as a largely unchecked way of sharing information, is partly to blame for his words being misinterpreted and for the rampant spread of disinformation. It’s a hurdle that he said has made containing a deadly outbreak harder.
During the radio program, Fauci also discussed the future of COVID relief without more funding from Congress; the “Fauci Effect,” which has led to an increase in applications for medical and public health school; and his decision to not attend the White House Correspondents Dinner at the end of April.
Last week the United States reached 1 million deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a grim milestone Fauci said he hoped would spur action to prevent a bad next couple of months.
“We know the difference in hospitalizations and deaths among those who are vaccinated and boosted compared to the unvaccinated; it’s [an] extraordinary difference, the data are so crystal clear about vaccination,” Fauci said. “[It] may not necessarily protect everyone against infection, that’s for sure, because we see infections in people who were vaccinated. But the protection against severe disease leading to hospitalization and death is very, very effective.”
However, more preventative steps may get tied up in Congress, where elected leaders have yet to approve more funding for the nation’s COVID response, he said.
“We’ve got to get people boosted,
the doctor said. “We’ve got to get a lot more antiviral drugs. We have to have money for vaccine doses and vaccine trials. We really do need those resources that we’re asking for. It’s not just pro forma asking for more resources. We really do need them if we want to do the optimum that we can do to prevent things from continuing or even getting worse.”
As it is right now, the United States will miss out on ordering important resources, according to a fact sheet from the Biden administration.
Last week, Fauci chose not to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner. Comedian Trevor Noah, who hosted the dinner, made a crack that if Fauci doesn’t think it’s safe, no one should be there, something Fauci said Monday is not quite accurate.
“If we are going to be as a society, living with something that’s not going to disappear, then each individual needs to make their own assessment of the personal risk they’re willing to take based on a number of factors,” Fauci said. “I was not implying that because I decided not to go that that has to influence someone else’s personal decision and your personal decision is based on things that might be obvious.”
He pointed to his age, 81 years old, as a reason that he did not attend, but said there are many factors that contributed to his decision.
“Some people may have underlying conditions that they’re not interested in the world knowing about,” Fauci said. “They may be living with someone who’s vulnerable if they bring the infection home. Even if they don’t get very symptomatic, they may endanger a loved member of their own family. So there’s so many different reasons why people take different risks. And the point I was making is that each individual has to make their own personal determination. And I did that, and it was only for me. It wasn’t for anyone else.”
Over the last two years or so, Fauci has became a household name. His rise to prominence sparked the need for a security detail, he told hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. But it has also inspired what some are calling the “Fauci effect,” or an increase in applications to medical school.
“We do need to get bright young people involved in medicine and public health and if anything about me or my image promotes that I feel very good about that,” Fauci said. “I’m just very gratified to see that many young bright people, because of what’s going on right now,have chosen medicine, science and public health as a career.”
Fauci emphasized that even as case counts rise, vaccinations and other precautions are still working — which can be seen in the death rate.
“Obviously, this virus is highly contagious,” Fauci said. “We know that people who are vaccinated and even boosted can get infected. But the data are very clear about how vaccination and boosting, when your boosting time comes up, has a major positive effect in preventing you for the most part … from going on to severe disease, leading to hospitalizations, and death.”
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