Don’t drink bleach. Wear a mask, even though it won’t make you invincible. While wearing a mask doesn’t make you invincible, you should have one. Hydoxychloroquine may not cure the coronavirus.
Who is the source of this essential knowledge?
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and is now well-known for his appearances on President Trump’s daily news briefings about coronavirus. Many people like him because of his clear and concise way of telling them what’s going on.
In fact, according to a poll by Business Insider, he is the most trusted American leader on coronavirus. But being in these briefings isn’t in his job description, so how did he get there?
Fauci grew up in southwest Brooklyn, part of a very religious family. He attended Christian school his whole life, and up until medical school he focused on the humanities. In fact, he never wanted to be a scientist; he only took the bare minimum science classes and instead took Latin, French, Greek, Theology, and Ancient History. He became a doctor because his high school, Holy Cross, made the choice for him. He himself has admitted that his experience in the humanities has allowed him to effectively communicate with politicians and the public, saying at a dinner last year that his school had taught him “to communicate scientific principles, or principles of basic and clinical research, without getting very profuse and off on tangents.”
A Vasculitis Breakthrough
Dr. Fauci’s first big success was with a rare disease called vasculitis. Vasculitis is an inflammation of blood vessels that’s main symptom is an overactive immune system, and it was almost always fatal before Fauci’s work on it. It was 1972, and he had just been promoted to senior researcher at the National Institutes of Health.
At the time, his lab was in the same building as the National Cancer Institute, where he would often consult with patients who were undergoing chemotherapy. One day when he was there, he noticed an unusual side effect of the toxic cancer drugs: they suppressed the immune system of the cancer patients.
An AIDS Pioneer
It occurred to him that he could use much lower doses of these toxins to suppress the vasculitis patients’ overactive immune systems, and the drugs worked. A fatal disease quickly became treatable. This case shows Fauci’s ability to see something that was established for one purpose and look at it in a new light, a skill he used again during the HIV/AIDS outbreak in 1981.
When the first cases of AIDS began popping up, a number of gay men who had contracted a rare form of pneumonia that had previously only been seen in people with very crippled immune systems. Most doctors ignored it, saying it was a one time thing, but if there was an underlying factor that caused this, nobody really knew anything about it. In an interview with PBS, Fauci spoke to that, saying “I remember getting a feeling of anxiety about that, of this unknown, but it was only a few cases, and I had a lot of other things going on, so I pushed it to the back of my mind. But it kind of stood there for a while.”
A few months later however, it happened again, this time with a much larger group. When Fauci saw the report he said, “…I remember getting a very chilly feeling that we were dealing with a brand-new communicable disease. I had no idea what it was… So I felt first something a little vague, a little confusing, and then a feeling of some significant anxiety about what the heck was going on here.”
So he wrote a paper to alert people of the problem, but it was rejected by The New England Journal of Medicine. He sent it to The Annals of Internal Medicine, who accepted it. Fauci spoke about this choice during an interview with the New York Times: “I made the decision that I was going to stop what I was doing, much to the chagrin of my mentors, who were saying, ‘Why do you want to give up a great trajectory of a career to study a handful of gay men with this strange disease?’ But, deep down, I really knew that this was going to explode.”
Joining With Protesters
In 1988, thousands of AIDS activists were protesting the FDA’s slow drug approval process that was stopping them from getting the treatment they needed. Most people, including Fauci, ignored them at first, confident in the process. But eventually he began to listen to them, and when he did, he began to see that they were right.
So he held conferences with them, explaining what they could do, and gradually earned their .trust. He created an AIDS division within the NIH, and their team discovered new treatments. In addition to that, Fauci realized there was a problem with experimental drug testing, “When we had clinical trials, we, the scientific community and the regulatory community, did not listen… It was, at the time, an attitude that many of us had, and I probably had it myself.”
Support for Parallel Track
He was speaking about the slow process of FDA approval of drugs, and the fact that people taking experimental drugs could only participate in one study at a time, possible barring their access to important medication. Fauci worked hard to change this, supporting a program called Parallel Track, which made unapproved AIDS drugs available as soon as they were proven safe. By changing the way things were done, he was able to get people the medicine they desperately needed and save lives.
Today, Fauci is the director of the NIAID, an organization that has a budget for 2020 estimated at $5.9 billion. Even so, he takes on the extra responsibility of informing the public about coronavirus, a job he’s so committed to he corrects the president, yet it isn’t even technically his job.
Fauci’s fearlessness in challenging the established way and repurposing medicines, himself and his agency to deal with issues he sees is what makes him so effective. His job doesn’t have anything to do with being the public face of coronavirus, but he realized someone needed to provide accurate information, so he stepped up. That flexibility is what we’ll need to get through this pandemic, and all outbreaks in the future. That flexibility is how Fauci became America’s most trusted COVID-19 official.