It was almost 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, February 1, 2020, when Dr. Anthony Fautsi fired an email that would direct him to perhaps the biggest controversy of his time as one of America’s most prominent public scholars.
“Thank you, Christian. Talk to the conversation soon, “he wrote.
While the answer was harmless, the context was explosive. Christian Andersen, a professor of immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, explained to Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that the virus causing the Covid-1
Andersen’s statement, published this week as part of Fautsi’s 3,000-page emails dating back to the pandemic, helped reinforce the theory that the disease began after information leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Andersen later denied this theory.
The exchange of emails reinforced allegations that Fauci was publicly downplaying the possibility of a laboratory leaking, even while engaging in conversation with other scientists about its potential merits.
Now the man, nicknamed the “American Doctor,” is facing calls for resignation and criticism from the right for insisting that the pandemic may be rooted in wildlife rather than a Chinese laboratory.
“There are a lot of questions that Dr. Fauci has to answer,” said Donald Trump, the former president to whom Fauci was an adviser after the emails were published. Trump supporters, many of whom accuse Fauzi of exaggerating the severity of the pandemic, have gone further. Joshua Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, called for Fauci to resign.
Fauci himself admits that he is worried. Not about the return, however, but about what he writes about America. “I’m worried about what he says about this country,” he told the Financial Times.
“Emails show someone who always evaluates the data during its development. But people selectively pull out emails to distort the reality. “
Fauci, 80, is one of the most famous and respected doctors in America.
After advising every president since Ronald Reagan, he gained notoriety in the scientific world for his work on HIV in the 1980s, when he was one of the first public medics to sound the alarm about a strange new disease identified among gays. He won the respect of gay activists by helping to change the way medical trials are conducted so that more people can access potentially life-saving treatments.
“Tony has revolutionized the way HIV trials are conducted,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a longtime friend of Fauci. “He’s a great medic, but he’s also a natural leader and he knows how to do things.”
Fauci played a prominent role in U.S. responses to Sars, Mers, and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-16, when U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came under fire for its response.
“There was a time when the CDC was attacked unfairly,” said Tom Frieden, who was the director of the CDC at the time. “A lot of people in this situation would stand aside or even quietly pile up, but Tony did just the opposite. He stood up for us internally and he stood up for us, publicly. He is smaller. “
Fauci is one of the most prominent faces of American Covid. He became known for his frequent television appearances, in which he discussed clearly and in his broad New York accent the seriousness of the pandemic.
His willingness to contradict Trump’s claims, such as the claim that Covid-19 is related to the flu, won him an army of fans.
Garden signs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere say, “Thank you, Dr. Fauci.” His February approval rating was 60 percent, slightly above that of Joe Biden, the president for whom he now serves as chief medical adviser.
However, others believe he undermined Trump for political reasons. Paul Mango, who was deputy chief of staff in the Trump administration’s health department, said: “Tony Fauci is a good man and a great scientist, but unfortunately he has made himself a political figure and this has made him lose credibility. “
Foki denies this: “Sometimes I had to contradict what [Trump] he said because what he said was not true. So it seems that there are radical people around who believe that I am an enemy. I’m not an enemy, I’m just trying to get the truth out. “
His reputation as a truth-teller is now in jeopardy.
He is accused of helping fund risky research at the Wuhan laboratory through a $ 600,000 grant provided by the US National Institutes of Health to work with bat coronaviruses. And his critics say his insistence that the disease’s origins lie in wildlife is less a reflection of the evidence than his desire to protect his institution.
Fauci told the FT that he continued to believe that the “high probability” was that the Sars-Cov-2 virus was transmitted to humans from animals.
But he also admits that some of the work undertaken at the Wuhan lab with NIH money could have violated safety standards – even if he says the EcoHealth Alliance, the non-governmental group that performed the work.
“We will have to go back and look into this,” he said of allegations that part of the work on the coronavirus was undertaken at a second level of biosafety, roughly equivalent to that in the dentist’s office. “But this is something that should have been monitored by the Health Alliance.”
The EcoHealth Alliance said: “As with all research organizations, the EcoHealth Alliance must follow the local laws of the countries in which we operate.”
Fauci continues to respond to emails late into the night from fellow professionals, journalists and the public. “I’m currently asleep for four hours,” he said.
Friends worry that facing such hard work and the constant threat of attack by Trump supporters, he may soon decide to retire from public life. But he insists it won’t happen.
“I never thought of leaving,” he said. “It will be enough for me when we nail this hearth and crush it.”
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