Calm, but invariably frank, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci is a public servant and an icon of the COVID-19 era. Speaking with a distinctive Brooklyn lilt, he is this country’s voice of stability in the face of a bewildering and deadly pandemic. As the nation’s most prominent public health official, he keeps medicine and data at the forefront, and, in doing so, gracefully shoulders the heavy burden of being a “lightning rod” for public reaction to our nation’s COVID-19 response.
To be sure, Dr. Fauci is familiar with that unenviable position. As the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, he has helped seven presidents navigate horrendous epidemics: AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and Zika, to name a few. Particularly during the height of the AIDS epidemic, Dr. Fauci received significant heat from activists who were understandably angered by the government’s lackluster response. Instead of taking this personally, however, Dr. Fauci asked himself, “[What would I do if] I had a disease in which the result was that I would die no matter what, and the government was telling me, ‘You can’t try anything that might work under any circumstances’[?]” His answer: “I’d be ramming down the doors, too.”
Acting with that understanding, Dr. Fauci allied himself with the activists. And based on their recommendations, Dr. Fauci convinced others to alter clinical trial requirements, thereby increasing the number of patients who could access HIV/AIDS treatments and saving numerous lives. As a consensus builder, he brought activists to the table as patient advocates—a practice that continues today in all National Institute of Health drug-testing committees.