WASHINGTON — Anthony Fauci urged Americans to keep up with their COVID-19 vaccinations in his final briefing from the White House on Tuesday, saying he hopes he’s remembered as a dedicated public servant despite GOP criticism of his pandemic-era advice.
“I’ll let other people judge the value or not of my accomplishments,” said Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director who will retire in December after 54 years in the federal government.
“What I would like people to remember about what I’ve done is that every day for all of those years, I’ve given it everything that I have and I’ve never left anything on the field,” he told reporters at the White House. “So if they want to remember me, whether they judge rightly or wrongly, what I’ve done, I gave it all I got for many decades.”
He said that he’ll “cooperate fully” if Republicans demand that he testify in oversight hearings when they take over the House next year, as they have promised.
“We can defend and explain and stand by everything that we said,” he said. “So I have nothing to hide.”
Fauci has provoked Republican opprobrium and even threats from the far right over his support for conservative public health precautions against COVID-19, including social distancing, masking and vaccination. He has been the nation’s foremost voice contesting misinformation right-wing figures have circulated about the virus, including doubts about the efficacy of vaccines and the promotion of unproven treatments for the disease.
President Joe Biden reinstated Fauci as the White House’s top medical adviser when he entered office after his predecessor, Donald Trump, sidelined the scientist following a series of disagreements and disputes.
Some Republican politicians have sought to elevate their political profile by contrasting themselves with Fauci, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A song released this month by Jacksonville musicians Johnny and Donnie Van Zant called “Sweet Florida” that DeSantis used to raise money for his reelection campaign, according to the Florida Times-Union, celebrates the Florida governor for “taking on the swamp and calling out Dr. Fauci.”
But Fauci, who is 81, has consistently described himself as nonpartisan and said he simply wants to see as few Americans die of COVID-19 as possible. He opened his final briefing by urging people to seek new bivalent booster shots that protect against more recent variants of the virus, saying fully vaccinated people are 14 times less likely to die from an infection than the unvaccinated.
“When I see people in this country, because of the divisiveness in our country, not getting vaccinated for reasons that have nothing to do with public health, but have to do because of divisiveness and ideological differences — as a physician it pains me, because I don’t want to see anybody get infected,” he said.
“I don’t want to see anybody hospitalized, and I don’t want to see anybody die from COVID,” he added. “Whether you’re a far-right Republican or a far-left Democrat, doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Fauci lamented the proliferation of pandemic-related conspiracy theories and misinformation.
“People who have correct information, who take science seriously, who don’t have strange, way-out theories about things, but who base what they say on evidence and data, need to speak up more because the other side that just keeps putting out misinformation and disinformation seems to be tireless in that effort,” he said. “And it’s going to be very difficult.”
(With assistance from Jordan Fabian and Akayla Gardner.)