Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading epidemiologist and head of NIAID, participated in his first press briefing under the new Biden administration on Thursday — and landed a couple digs at his former boss in the process.
Fauci spoke to reporters about the new administration’s plan to ramp up vaccine production and administration, which includes partnering with more pharmacies and companies nationwide.
On Wednesday, Amazon penned a letter to the Biden administration offering to help distribute the vaccine. On Thursday, Fauci was asked if the federal rollout of the vaccine would have been improved had Amazon been involved while Donald Trump was still in office.
Fauci demurred, and in doing so shed light on the differences between the two administrations.
“No, I don’t think I could answer that question,” Fauci replied. “One of the new things in this administration is if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess, just say you don’t know the answer.”
“One of the things that we’re going to do is to be completely transparent, open and honest, if things go wrong, not point fingers, but to correct them, and to make everything we do be based on science and evidence,” Fauci later added.
The most pointed remark from Fauci came after a reporter said the doctor “joked about the difference” he felt in serving under the two administrations, to which Fauci said: “You said I was joking about it. I was very serious. I wasn't joking.”
“Obviously I don't want to be going back over history but it was very clear that there were things that were said [...] that were really uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact,” Fauci said of Trump.
Now, Fauci said, his job is easier with a president who accepts science.
“The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence is, what the science is, and know that's it, let the science speak — it is somewhat of a liberating feeling,” Fauci said.
The fraught relationship between former President Donald Trump Dr. Fauci was no secret. Fauci largely disappeared from briefings in the waning months of Trump’s administration, and the former president took issue with Fauci’s fierce adherence to science.
Fauci was known to correct Trump’s erroneous claims surrounding the coronavirus; namely, that hydroxychloroquine could be used as a treatment for the virus and that sunlight cured the disease.
Still, Fauci acknowledged Thursday that the Biden administration is “certainly not starting from scratch” in addressing the pandemic, saying there were some good ideas that will be carried through from the previous administration.
“It’s taking what’s gone on, but amplifying it in a big way,” Fauci said of Biden’s plan. “We’re coming in with fresh ideas, but also some ideas that were not bad ideas with the previous administration. You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all. So we are continuing, but you are going to see a real ramping up of it.”
Some of these increased efforts will be “getting community vaccine centers up, getting pharmacies more involved, and where appropriate, get the Defense Production Act Involved,” Fauci said.
Biden is giving government agencies a green light to use the Cold War-era Defense Production Act to direct manufacturing. It allows the government to direct private industry to produce supplies needed in times of national emergency. In this case it could be anything from swabs, to masks, to certain chemicals.
The Biden plan estimates that a national vaccination strategy with expanded testing requires $160 billion, and he wants an additional $170 billion to aid the reopening of schools and universities. The proposal also calls for major investment in scientific research to track new variants of the virus.
The high price tag may scare away more fiscally-conservative Republicans, which White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed Thursday. Psaki said the Biden team believes the proposal is bipartisan in nature, as both Democrats and Republicans want to see schools reopen, COVID-19 rates decrease, and the economy revived.
As part of his strategy, Biden ordered the establishment of a Health Equity Task Force to ensure that minority and underserved communities are not left out of the government’s response. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans have borne a heavy burden of death and disease from the virus. Surveys have shown vaccine hesitancy is high among African Americans, a problem the administration plans to address through an education campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.