WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci knew he was being turned into a villain of the far-right early on in the coronavirus pandemic, when President Donald Trump’s administration stopped defending him.

It was the result of a series of choices Fauci stands by to this day, despite all the grief it has brought his way: contradicting Trump’s declarations that the virus would magically disappear as a pandemic loomed and that untested drugs, like hydroxychloroquine, were effective remedies.

“I had to, as painful as it was, come out publicly and contradict the president of the United States,” he said in an interview with McClatchy, as he prepares to leave government at the end of December after a career in public service that has spanned five decades and seven presidents.

“White House staff — even the communications staff — actually did things like opposition research on me,” he said, “and no pushback on the part of the White House. That’s when I knew that was a signal to the outside world that it was open season to attack me. And then I knew that I had become the boogeyman of the far, extreme right.”

Now, Fauci’s career in government is coming to an end — but his work on the pandemic that defined his career will continue.

The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases expects to write and lecture before settling on any major projects after leaving government — and hopes to inspire the next generation of scientists to work in public service, despite the public trials he faced throughout his own.


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“Fundamentally, this is a wonderful country,” Fauci said, “with all of the warts and all of the blemishes that we might have, this is a phenomenal country. And I believe in the goodness of people, even people who are temporarily going astray about recommendations.”

“I believe that we will get back on track,” he added.

Whatever comes next for the nation’s leading infectious-disease doctor will invariably involve the future of COVID-19.

“COVID’s not done with us, and I’m not done with COVID,” he said. “It will likely be part of what we have to deal with for many years to come.”

COVID’s not done with us, and I’m not done with COVID. It will likely be part of what we have to deal with for many years to come.”
— Dr. Anthony Fauci, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


With the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots — including upgraded boosters that address the predominant variants circulating now — Fauci said the country is in a position to stay ahead of the virus.

But booster rates remain low nationwide, and SARS-CoV-2, the technical term for COVID-19, remains capable of posing surprise challenges, he added.

“I’d have to be perfectly honest with you,” Fauci said, “there is always the possibility that we will get a variant that’s very, very different than the current variants.”

Fauci said the key to success going forward will be to ensure that booster shots continue to be calibrated against prevailing variants — and ensuring the public continues to take them, however frequently as necessary.

The Biden administration says that most Americans should expect to be eligible for booster shots once a year going forward. But “that’s to get people into a reasonable cadence,” Fauci said. “There is a possibility — don’t know what the likelihood is, it’s difficult to predict — that there will be a variant that’s very, very different, that we will have to get everybody vaccinated out of the sync of a yearly vaccine.”

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Work on pan-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, which would target a range of variants at once, holds promise. “We may never get a truly pan-coronavirus (vaccine), but I think we can get with a good utilization of our scientific advances a vaccine that has a greater breadth and depth of coverage — which by definition would mean likely cover all the variants,” he said.

“The next challenge,” Fauci added, “would be to get a mucosally administered vaccine, one that you get through a nasal spray of some sort, to protect the upper airway from getting infected.

“We want something, ultimately, that prevents you from getting infected, so that you don’t spread it to someone else,” he said. “That would be an important advance.”

Vaccine research that accelerated during the pandemic is already proving beneficial in fights against other diseases, including HIV, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), malaria, tuberculosis and cancer, Fauci noted.

“Much of the technology that has been so successfully utilized with COVID vaccines is already being utilized for vaccines of other important diseases,” he said. “Technologies that prove successful in one endeavor, or one disease — in this case, COVID — are jump-starting the same type of approaches.”

But none of that progress will matter unless public health experts can get past the partisanship that consumed their field over the course of the pandemic, he said.

“Hopefully we get the ship righted again,” Fauci said. “We’ve got to get back on track of pulling together.”

“We’re not finished with COVID,” he added. “And hopefully, we’ll have lessons learned to prepare society for the next pandemic, which will come. That may not come next year, five years, 20 years, 50 years — who knows. But we really do want to continue to remain aware of the lessons that we’ve learned.”

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