Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and the most trusted figure leading the American response to the coronavirus pandemic, said in an interview with McClatchy on Thursday that he's willing to stand up to the Trump administration, if necessary.
I have previously been mildly critical of Fauci for playing an often-compliant role on the White House's coronavirus task force. Though his views on the seriousness of the outbreak have frequently been at odds with President Donald Trump and the rest of the administration's messaging, he has repeatedly held his tongue and refrained from expressing urgent criticisms. These omissions have been worrying as Trump had continuously misled the country on critical matters, likely at great cost.
But Fauci drew a line in the sand on Thursday, saying that he would publicly oppose any effort by the administration to push a coronavirus vaccine that wasn't justified by the scientific evidence. This has been a growing concern, as Trump's desire to solve the coronavirus problem and his clear intention to do whatever it takes to win in November set up a disturbing dynamic. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has already pledged, preposterously, that a vaccine will be ready by the end of the year. While it's possible that could happen in the most optimistic scenario, there's no way to forecast it now, and Esper's prediction just reinforces the idea that the administration can't be trusted on this matter.
"There is no chance in the world that I'm going to be forced into agreeing to something that I don't think is safe and scientifically sound," Fauci told McClatchy. "I'll guarantee you that."
Asked if he would publicly oppose an effort to prematurely announce the vaccine, Fauci was definitive: "Take that to the bank."
As if to fortify the credibility of the pledge, Fauci also broke with Vice President Mike Pence's recent publicly expressed optimism about the state of the pandemic. Pence had said that he sees "cause for celebration, not the media's fear mongering" in a recent Wall Street Journal op-d. But Fauci expressed his own fears.
"When I see an increase in cases that is not fully explainable in my mind, I get concerned," Fauci said in response to Pence's views. "I get concerned by an increase in cases even when it is explainable, because if you look at the curve of cases in the United States, and look at the total country, that is not a sharp decline by any means."
He said, as he has previously, that he's quite optimistic about the possibility for developing an effective vaccine. But the timeline of development remains unclear, and he criticized the administration's naming of its vaccine program "Operation Warp Speed."
"I really don't like the word Warp Speed, because what it does is it implies carelessness in stepping over important steps," he said.