Fauci says attacks by Fox News, RFK Jr. ‘accelerated’ death threats against him

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke with Yahoo News not only to discuss the implications of the now-dominant Omicron variant in the U.S., but also about how he and his family continue to receive death threats that are exacerbated by people like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Fox News hosts.

Video transcript

ANTHONY FAUCI: I would think so because of so many followers that he has, people who hang on his every word. One of the things that surprised me is that when he publicly made that statement, he was actually booed by his followers, which tells me that the depth of the divisiveness in society where people are so intent on not doing something almost for ideological reasons without dropping back and taking a look at the big picture that it's for one's own good, to protect one's selves, to protect one's family, but also for your communal responsibility to not allow this virus to run rampant through society. So I was pleased that the former president said publicly that he was vaccinated and boosted, but I was dismayed that even his own followers booed him. That was rather disturbing to see that.

Well, I would hope that not only former President Trump, but other people, media personalities on the far-right wing media, and people like that would put aside divisiveness and realize that encouraging people to get vaccinated as opposed to discouraging them is so important for individual and health of the community. There's no room when you have an unprecedented public health crisis to let divisiveness get in the way of sound, and tried and true public health principles.

Well, I did not speak with RFK Jr in the Trump White House. We invited him to the NIH and he spoke to me, and he spoke to Dr. Collins, the NIH director, and several of us, and gave a presentation that really was just full of inaccuracies and distortions. And it really is a shame that he is attacking me and my career. I think if you look at my career, there are not a lot of people that would be attacking my career, but he seems to do that. It's very unfortunate because I don't think he is inherently malicious. I just think he's a very disturbed individual.

And I say that-- you know, I don't like to have to say that but it's very, very clear and it's a shame because he comes from such an extraordinarily distinguished family, many members of whom I know personally. And I was very close to Senator Ted Kennedy, who was such an extraordinary person and a real warrior for public health. And to have RFK Jr just spouting things that make absolutely no sense. And the thing that makes it even more painful about it is that ultimately, that is hurting people, that will cause disease and lose lives for the things he's saying. So I'm so sorry that he's doing that not just because he's attacking me, that seems to be the rage among some people, but because ultimately, it is going to hurt people. So it's really unfortunate that he's doing that.

Oh, the answer is yes, and it even gets accelerated when you have the inflammatory statements that are made like people like RFK Jr, and some of the Fox media personalities that unabashedly making extraordinarily inflammatory statements that in my mind is strange that they go unchecked with no consequences for people to say that. And when they do that publicly, that's when I get more death threats and people harass me, my wife, and my children. It's a sad testimony on society that that is going on when a person who the only thing I've ever said or done is to encourage people to get vaccinated, to wear a mask, and to do things that would be good for their health, the health of their family, and the health of community. So to get villainize because of that is a sad testimony on our society, unfortunately.

You know, I think we should be expecting that we are going to see a major surge in numbers. I don't want to give a particular number, that will just get people know more anxious than they need to be. This is something we really need to be concerned about, but as the president said, we shouldn't panic. This is a highly, highly transmissible virus. The likes of which we really have not seen at least in my memory. We've sought first take off the way it did in South Africa, and then now we saw it in the UK, it's doing the same thing here. So I would not be surprised if we see yet again another major surge.

Fortunately, early indications seem to suggest that it is less severe in individuals-- that looks pretty clear in Africa, we don't know yet if that's going to be the case here. I would imagine it would be, but it's going to be something we have to take very seriously. This is something that is an issue. We need to do everything we possibly can to mitigate, gets back to what I've said so many, many times, the importance of vaccination, the importance of getting boosted if you are vaccinated, and being prudent and careful, like always wearing a mask when you're in an indoor congregate setting. When you have a virus this efficient, you've really got to take it seriously.

Well, certainly, Americans should take this very seriously even if it does turn out that overall the disease is less severe than what we've seen with Delta. When you have quantitatively that many more cases, it might override whatever mild advantage you might have in having a less severe disease. To be sure, there is going to be illness, there's going to be severe disease, there's going to be hospitalization, and people are going to die. This is going to be overwhelmingly weighted towards the unvaccinated people, because even though there will be many breakthrough infections of people who are vaccinated and boosted, it is very likely that they will have less severe and maybe even no symptoms, even though they get infected. However, if you are unvaccinated, then you are really quite vulnerable, not only to get infected but to get a severe disease.

We are going to dramatically increase the availability of testing. We now have about 20,000 testing sites, we'll be adding more. There will be the availability very soon literally within a few days to a week of a half a billion tests. The production will be upscaled through the Defense Production Act to the point of being able to get 200 million to 500 million tests available per month. Many of them are going to be free. So the situation with testing, although admittedly, it is not optimal up to this point, it's getting better and better. And the president is really going to make a major effort to do the kinds of things we need to do to make testing literally available to anybody who wants it when they want it.

No, I wouldn't say that. I mean, getting large, large amounts of tests is logistically not an easy thing to do. It is being corrected now. And as a matter of fact, testing should be an important part of the comprehensive approach to addressing this outbreak. Vaccine is clearly the most important tool, but testing, wearing of masks, being prudent when one travels or is in congregate setting, it's all part of the big picture approach towards addressing this. Particularly, there'll be an increased demand in testing because of Omicron, which as I mentioned is much, much more transmissible than the other variants that we have faced.