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Correcting Misinformation About Dr. Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci has announced that in December he will step down from his positions as chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and its laboratory of immunoregulation.

Fauci has worked for the National Institutes of Health since 1968 and has been the director of NIAID since 1984. In that time, he has advised seven U.S. presidents on infectious disease threats such as HIV and AIDS; the West Nile, Ebola and Zika viruses; and more.

But most of the public may know him as the face of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, first as a member of former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force and now as a member of Biden’s response team. Not everyone has been a fan.

Republican politicians and conservative media outlets have continually criticized his efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, questioned his motivations for promoting vaccination against it, and speculated on what he knows about the origin of the virus. GOP members of Congress have promised to investigate Fauci and have him testify before Congress if Republicans retake control of the House or Senate next year.

Here are some of the false and misleading claims about Fauci, his work and his public health guidance that we have written about since the pandemic began in 2020. 

COVID-19 Guidance

In a February 2020 NBC interview, over a week before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, Fauci said that “right now at this moment” the risk to the public was “low” and there was “no need” for people “to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.” However, he added that “this could change,” that people needed to be wary of “community spread,” and that the coronavirus could develop into a “major outbreak.” 

Trump wrongly claimed that month that Fauci was saying, “This is no problem. This is going to blow over.”

See, “Trump Misquotes Fauci on Coronavirus Threat,” April 29, 2020

Conservative commentator Liz Wheeler made a series of false claims about Fauci in a January 2021 video titled “Fauci lied to you AGAIN.” 

She claimed that he “lied” about the rate or ratio of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 who had died, which we did not find to be the case. 

Dr. Fauci speaks from the press briefing room in the White House on April 4, 2020. Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

She said “Fauci said lockdowns work,” which she then said was “obviously false” and based on “zero scientific evidence.” But experts we consulted said that there was research showing that travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

Wheeler also stated that Fauci “admitted he lied to us” when he initially said early in March 2020 that widespread use of face masks was not necessary. She said Fauci only said that to “manipulate us into not buying masks so that there wouldn’t be a shortage for health care workers.”

At the time, Fauci said he was “not against” anyone wearing a mask if they wanted to, but he warned that if everyone wore them it “could lead to a shortage of masks for the people who really need it,” particularly health care providers and people who were ill.

Then in April 2020, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone wear face coverings in public because of virus transmission from asymptomatic carriers, Fauci also began encouraging universal mask use. He said in an interview two months later that he and other health officials truly did not realize the degree to which infected people without symptoms were spreading the virus, which led to the shift in masking guidance. That does not mean that he “lied” to the public.

See, “Video Wrong About Fauci, COVID-19,” Feb. 3, 2021

The NIAID told us that Fauci has spent much of his career treating patients at the NIH Clinical Center– including, recently, those with COVID-19. But Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has criticized Fauci’s pandemic guidance and previously called for him to resign, falsely claimed that “Fauci’s never taken care of patients,” while suggesting that Fauci does not approach COVID-19 from a “patient care” perspective.

Fauci has said in interviews that he still sees patients because it’s part of who he is as a physician.

See, “Dr. Fauci Still Treats Patients, Contrary to Dr. Oz’s Claim,” Jan. 28, 2022

As COVID-19 cases declined early in 2022, Fauci noticeably made fewer media appearances to talk about the pandemic, especially as other newsworthy events, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, began to dominate the national news coverage. Some Republican politicians and conservative pundits falsely suggested that doing fewer interviews meant that Fauci had “disappeared” from public view because he had become so unpopular – which was not the case.

See, “Fauci Continues Making Public Appearances and Hasn’t ‘Disappeared,'” March 17, 2022

Vaccines and Treatments

In a March 2020 interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the company now known as Meta, Fauci emphasized the importance of conducting clinical trials to determine vaccine safety before distribution. He cited examples of vaccine candidates for other viruses, such as HIV and respiratory syncytial virus, that were found to be harmful during the evaluation process. 

“This would not be the first time, if it happened, that a vaccine that looked good in initial safety actually made people worse,” Fauci said of the COVID-19 vaccines, which were still being tested at the time. Ultimately, in clinical trials and real-world conditions, the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. were found to be safe and effective

Fauci did not admit that “Covid Vaccines May Actually Make People ‘Worse,'” as a viral headline published in December 2021 misleadingly claimed. The story lifted Fauci’s comments out of context to give the false impression that he had recently said the approved and authorized vaccines would do more harm than good.

See, “Viral Story Takes Fauci COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Comments Out of Context,” Dec. 17, 2021

Fauci also said in a June 2020 interview that a COVID-19 vaccine could begin to be manufactured “even before you know it works.” That would allow the vaccine to be widely distributed more quickly, but only “if in fact it is effective,” he said.

Fauci’s remarks were twisted in a viral meme that falsely suggested he supported administering a COVID-19 vaccine before the clinical trial process was completed.

See, “Meme Misrepresents Fauci’s Position on Vaccine Trials,” June 5, 2020

Then in a December 2020 CNN interview, just days before the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, Fauci made a distinction between the vaccine’s effectiveness against the COVID-19 disease and against infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes that illness.

Dr. Fauci briefs President Biden at an NIH vaccine center in Bethesda, Maryland. Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz.

He said the vaccine was found to be “very good” at protecting individuals “against clinically recognizable disease.” However, he said it was uncertain “at this point, that the vaccine protects you against getting infected.”

A popular video distorted Fauci’s remarks to falsely suggest that he said the vaccine doesn’t “protect you from covid.”

See, “Video Misinterprets Fauci’s Comments on COVID-19 Vaccine,” Jan. 26, 2021

In a May 2021 Senate hearing, Fauci estimated that “probably around 60%” of his NIAID colleagues had been vaccinated against COVID-19 at the time. Viral online posts distorted his comments to misleadingly claim that half of employees at federal health agencies “are refusing” the vaccines, which Fauci never said. 

At the time, NIAID told us that 67% of the NIH staff were vaccinated, but the “actual number may be higher” because reporting was voluntary.

See, “Posts Distort Testimony of Federal Health Officials on Employee Vaccinations,” May 21, 2021

Hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for COVID-19. But a Gateway Pundit story shared on Facebook in June 2021 declared, “SMOKING GUN: FAUCI LIED, MILLIONS DIED — Fauci Was Informed of Hydroxychloroquine Success in Early 2020 But Lied to Public Instead Despite the Science.”

The story was based on two emails that were sent to Fauci in February 2020. In one email, two doctors expressed the possibility that the drug could be effective against COVID-19. Fauci forwarded the email to an NIH deputy director who works in microbiology and infectious diseases and wrote: “Please take a look and respond to them. Thanks.”

In the other email, a pharmacologist made reference to “data from 2005 showing inhibition of SARS infection,” which is a different disease caused by a different coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) from the one that leads to COVID-19. We previously wrote about a 2005 study that found the drug prevented the spread of that SARS virus in cell culture — which is not the same as working in humans.

Those emails are not evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19, or that Fauci kept this from the public. In fact, randomized controlled trials — the highest standard of evidence — have found that hydroxychloroquine isn’t beneficial in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients. 

See, “Viral Posts, Pundits Distort Fauci Emails,” June 4, 2021

Remdesivir is an antiviral medication approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19. The drug was invented by the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, which receives any profit from sales of the drug as a treatment for COVID-19. 

A viral social media post falsely claimed that Fauci was “pushing” remdesivir because he “invented” it with Bill Gates and they would profit from its use.

Fauci does not hold a patent for remdesivir, and a spokesperson for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told USA Today that the foundation also was not involved in the invention or development of the drug.

See, “Fauci Didn’t Invent, Won’t Profit from Remdesivir,” May 21, 2020

Coronavirus Origins

It is still uncertain how SARS-CoV-2 originated, but many scientists suspect the virus “spilled over” into humans from an animal. There is no evidence the virus was created in a lab, let alone as part of any U.S.-funded research.

A June 2021 Facebook post claimed that “Fauci knew the virus was likely engineered,” because of an email he received from Kristian Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research. In that Jan. 31, 2020, email to Fauci, Andersen said that there were “unusual features” of “a really small part of the genome” of the coronavirus that “(potentially) look engineered.” He mentioned others, too, found “the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”

But Andersen said in his email that more analysis was necessary and “opinions could still change,” which is what later happened.

On March 17, 2020, Nature Medicine published an article by Andersen and other scientists that said they determined that the coronavirus likely originated through “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer,” or “natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.” The authors added that they “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible,” because they “observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features … in related coronaviruses in nature.”

See, “Viral Posts, Pundits Distort Fauci Emails,” June 4, 2021

Former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro falsely claimed that Fauci “killed a lot of people” by funding some bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute is in Wuhan, China, where the first COVID-19 cases were identified.

NIAID did provide a multimillion-dollar grant to fund some of the lab’s research, but the NIH has explained that those experiments could not have led to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 because the viruses that were being studied were very different. 

“Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic,” then-NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in an Oct. 20, 2021, statement, referring to an analysis posted to the NIAID’s website. “Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.”

See, “Navarro Falsely Links Fauci to Pandemic Origin,” May 19, 2022

Republican Sen. Rand Paul accused Fauci of lying when Fauci said in a May 2021 Senate hearing that “the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” But there’s no evidence that Fauci lied to Congress, as Paul asserted in a July 20, 2021, hearing, about funding gain-of-function research — which the U.S. government generally defined in 2014 as aiming to “increase the ability of infectious agents to cause disease by enhancing its pathogenicity or by increasing its transmissibility.” 

Fauci has said that the research that was funded “was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function,” and the NIH has said the same. The issue is that scientists have differing opinions on what counts as gain-of-function research.

Paul has posited that Fauci, among others, “could be culpable for the entire pandemic,” if the SARS-CoV-2 virus leaked from a Wuhan lab that was conducting gain-of-function research. But there is no proof of a lab leak, and there is evidence that the bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant could not have caused the pandemic. 

See, “The Wuhan Lab and the Gain-of-Function Disagreement,” May 21, 2021, and “Fauci and Paul, Round 2,” July 22, 2021

In December 2014, the NIH posted a photo of Fauci and former President Barack Obama touring the NIH Vaccine Research Center at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The photo showed Obama speaking about Ebola research with Dr. Nancy Sullivan, of NIAID, and Fauci was shown standing next to Sylvia Burwell, who was the health and human services secretary at the time.

But the years-old photo was circulated in 2020 along with the false claim that the image showed “Dr. Fauci, Melinda Gates and Barack Obama at the Wuhan Lab in 2015,” suggesting a connection to the COVID-19 pandemic.

See, “Old Photo Shows Obama, Fauci at U.S. Facility — Not ‘Wuhan Lab,'”July 17, 2020

Other Claims

A series of reports in 2021 from a group that opposes federal funding for research relying on animal testing prompted dozens of readers to ask us if Fauci had a history of cruelty to animals, specifically beagles.

The NIAID admitted to FactCheck.org in a statement that Fauci was involved in the process of awarding funding for a number of research projects that used beagles as test subjects. But the agency denied that it funded one particular project in Tunisia that went viral on social media because of images from a published study that showed sedated beagles with their heads stuck in mesh cages filled with diseased sand flies.

See, “Answering Questions About #BeagleGate,” Nov. 2, 2021

Fauci is among the many federal employees who are required to submit an annual public financial disclosure report to their employing agency or department. His reports — which list his assets, income, employment agreements and other financial information — are available upon request from the NIH’s FOIA office. 

But in a January congressional hearing, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall asked Fauci if he would be willing to publicly release “a financial disclosure form,” suggesting that Fauci’s reports are not available to the public and are being hidden by “the big tech giants.”

See, “Fauci’s Financial Disclosure Forms Are Publicly Available,” Jan. 12, 2022

In 2005, Fauci told the Associated Press that he donates royalty payments he receives from the licensees of products and treatments he helped develop while working for the NIH.

But that detail was not mentioned in a number of May posts about reporting on millions of dollars in royalties paid to Fauci and other NIH scientists since 2009.

See, “Some Posts About NIH Royalties Omit Fauci Statement That He Donates His Payments,” May 20, 2022

Fauci’s family has been the subject of false attacks as well.

His wife, Dr. Christine Grady, is not the sister of Ghislaine Maxwell, a former British socialite who was sentenced this year to 20 years in prison for recruiting girls and young women for accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Social media posts falsely claimed that Christine had her last name changed from Maxwell to Grady.

See, “Social Media Posts Spread False Claim About Fauci’s Wife,” July 10, 2020

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