Commentary: Fauci Must Go

by Peter J. Pitts


It’s time for Dr. Fauci to go.

That’s a tough sentence to write considering the important role he’s played in advancing crucial public health issues from advancing HIV/AIDS therapies to our battle against COVID-19. His Bobble Head was well-deserved. Please, don’t shoot the messenger.

Alas, at this moment in time Dr. Fauci is not the guy to address our nation’s most pressing public health problem – convincing unvaccinated Americans to take the plunge. In fact, he has become the bête noire of the anti-vax movement.

As the old Beltway adage goes, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Has Dr. Fauci been treated fairly? Here’s the answer, it doesn’t matter. His hot mic “moron” comment is only the latest in a series of communication blunders. While going head-to-head with Republican senators might have MSBNC viewers hooting and hollering “Go Tony!” the brief victory is of the Pyrrhic variety. There is no room for a partisan echo chamber when it comes to scientific matters.

Dr. Fauci has his hard-earned and well-deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom. It’s time for him to move on. “But” some will passionately argue, “this is just surrendering to the anti-science, pro-Trump insurrectionists.” It doesn’t matter. Fauci was mercilessly baited – and he bit. And it was a poison apple. Life is unfair. But we must keep our eye on the prize – getting unvaccinated Americans to role up their sleeves. The question is a binary one: Is Tony Fauci an asset or a liability in this effort considering who these Americans are and how they feel about him? It doesn’t take complicated Nate Silver algorithms to answer that one.

Recent articles have berated the CDC for its “messaging problems.” What better way to address this issue than head-on. Let’s call it like it is. The CDC is full of brilliant scientists, but they can’t communicate their way out of a paper bag. Combined with Tony Fauci being damaged goods, its time, like right now, to make a change. In the immortal words of Marshall McLuhan, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”  Due to no fault of his own (well, maybe just a little), Dr. Fauci has become a political distraction we cannot afford.

It’s time for Dr. Fauci to respectfully step back and for President Biden to immediately name Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as the Administration’s public face on our on-going battle against COVID-19. Murthy co-chaired President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and most recently stepped forward to question the CDC’s position on whether or not an at-home antigen test should be considered best practice after a five-day quarantine.

Admiral Murthy is a potent standard bearer for science. As he said in a recent report, “I am urging all Americans to help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Health misinformation is a serious threat to public health. It can cause confusion, sow mistrust, harm people’s health, and undermine public health efforts. Limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole-of-society effort.”

Great athletes know when it’s time to hang up their cleats. There’s nothing sadder than watching a former all-star stumble on the base paths. Dr. Fauci deserves to have his number retired and his name enshrined in the hallowed halls of public health service. It’s time for him to pass the baton to a new generation. Stepping aside would be hard (and certainly out of character) for the feisty Fauci, but it would also be a graceful and classy way to reset the public conversation on the pandemic.

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Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner and member of the United States Senior Executive Service, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris Medical School. He is a contributor to RealClearHealth.




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