Anthony Fauci, the scientist who corrects Trump

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On Monday evening, during the daily press conference held by the President of the United States Donald Trump and by the task force involved in the containment of the coronavirus, several people on social networks have noticed the anomalous absence of Anthony Fauci, immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). In recent weeks, in fact, Fauci had always attended press conferences and has become for many US citizens the most reliable point of reference in the uncertain situation linked to the spread of the new coronavirus.

In addition to his long career in research, Fauci’s authoritativeness is also due to his frequent presence on the main information channels, to the ability to communicate and effectively manage complex public health issues and, more recently, to having learned take action to correct Trump’s often inaccurate and understatement statements, while showing competence and great diplomatic skills.

Fauci’s absence from the latest press conference was explained by a White House representative, who told reporters that the task force speakers are not always the same but take turns based on the day’s communications. In an interview exit on Sunday ScienceFauci said he was very tired but well, that he had not been infected with the virus and had not been fired, as far as he knows. Despite this, some speculated that Trump fears that Fauci might damage his image and is looking for a way to reduce his visibility, without however depriving himself of his fundamental presence in the task force.

Anthony Fauci is 79 years old and since 1984 he is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the institute that deals with allergies and infectious diseases and which is part, together with 26 other centers, of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US government agency that deals with public health. In recent decades, Fauci has been one of the most important and responsible American scientists in research on infectious diseases and immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. In the 36 years as director of NIAID he has been scientific adviser to six presidents, from Reagan to Trump, and has been involved in the management of viral diseases such as HIV, SARS, MERS and ebola. In recent years in Fauci the role of director of the NIH has been proposed several times, but he has always refused.

The operation that earned Fauci much of his fame, as a scientist but also as a political mediator, dates back to the Reagan presidency. In those years the AIDS epidemic was beginning to show its danger and Fauci, with the help of Charles Everett Koop, head of the United States public health service, put pressure on the government to recognize the emergency and intervene to stem it. In those years Fauci also contributed to the fight against HIV in the field of research, studying both therapies to strengthen the immune system of the patients and a possible vaccine.

Between 1983 and 2002 Fauci was entered by the Institute for Scientific Information in thirteenth place in the ranking of the most cited scientists in all disciplines and around the world. In 2014 he was one of the experts who spent the most in trying to make the international community recognize the importance of screening to contain the spread of ebola, underlining that it was the only possible intervention since cures and vaccines were still very far from ‘be discovered.

Since January 2020 Fauci has been part of the Trump administration’s task force that is managing the emergency linked to the spread of the new coronavirus. Already on Sunday 8 March, when there were around 500 coronavirus cases in the United States and Trump had publicly called COVID-19 a “normal flu”, Fauci had participated in two television news programs in which he said that it would soon become necessary to introduce strict restrictions to isolate the infected. On that occasion Fauci had addressed elderly people and those with precarious health conditions, recommending them to avoid cruises, air flights and gatherings of people.

March 13 the United States has declared a state of emergency and since then Fauci has been present in several television programs, becoming the reference expert on coronavirus. Initially his relationship with the media, as a member of the government’s task force, was well received by the White House, but as the days went by some government representatives have begun to worry that Fauci’s statements may prove too critical of Trump.

In fact, in recent days, Fauci has intervened on several occasions during press conferences to correct Trump. The most talked about episode is the one in which the president quoted the state department as “deep state department”, making a joke about conspiracy theories that the US government is full of dark officials who want to sabotage it. In the video of the conference, which quickly went viral, Fauci clearly appears, framed to the left of the president, bringing his hand to his forehead with a resigned expression.

But it is not the only one. When Trump said that scientists will soon find a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci had to intervene to specify that the most correct estimate of the time goes from 12 to 18 months. Trump later said that the disease would disappear with the arrival of spring, which Fauci called still impossible to say. Concerning the possibility that chloroquine, an antimalarial drug, can be effectively used to treat COVID-19 patients, of which Trump has publicly talked about being very confident, Fauci explained that there is not enough data to make claims that have a value scientific.

In a subsequent interview with CBSFauci, however, downsized the seriousness of Trump’s claims, saying that in reality there is no big difference between their positions: “The president has heard, like everyone else, what I call” anecdotal reports “about the effectiveness of some medications. What he tried to do was to express the hope that, in the event that they work, they can be used and given to all the sick. I, for my part, do not disagree with the fact that they can work, but my job is to prove it definitively from a scientific point of view. While I took a purely medical-scientific point of view, the president tried to give hope to the country. ”

In the interview that Fauci gave to Science, from which his diplomatic skills clearly emerge but also all the effort to manage the situation, speaking of his relationship with Trump says that “although we do not agree on some things, he listens to me. He goes his own way and has his own style, but really listen to what I say about important things ยป.

But there are also several other situations in which Fauci has decided not to intervene, and on which he then expressed himself publicly in the press. For example, speaking of Trump’s allusion to the fact that China could have revealed the discovery of the virus three or four months earlier – which would imply that the new coronavirus had been known to the Chinese government since September – Fauci said: “I certainly can’t jump on the microphone and put it down. ” He added that he had pointed out the inconsistency to those in charge, with the expectation that these errors will not be repeated. When asked if he had ever spoken of SARS-CoV-2 as the “China virus”, an expression used several times by Trump, Fauci said he had never used this expression and that he would never use it.

In addition to his role, Fauci has become so important also because he is one of the few scientists to speak publicly about the ongoing emergency. Denise Grady wrote on New York Times that “other government scientific advisors have left a vacuum, avoiding the media spotlight or letting the Trump administration limit them and accuse them of exaggerating the threat of the virus. When journalists call Dr. Fauci, however, he always calls them back. ”



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