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Fauci fatigue sets in as top doc sows doubt in vaccine effectiveness

Years from now when we look back at the coronavirus pandemic, one of the first people we'll think of is Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers | Moderna reports positive early results for booster shots against COVID-19 variants | Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers Fauci: COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver should not be 'off the table' MORE, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And why not? It was one year ago when an argument could be made that the two most trusted public figures on COVID-19 were Fauci and New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBroadway to fully reopen in September Mets, Yankees to open vaccination sites to fans before games Cuomo signs legislation restoring voting rights to felons upon release from prison MORE (D).  

We all know about the spectacular fall of the latter from 70-something percent approval ratings, thanks to a COVID-19-related nursing home scandal, allegations of sexual harassment and prioritizing COVID-19 tests for family members.

In April 2020, Fauci enjoyed headlines like these:

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"Anthony Fauci - the Most Trusted Man in America" — The New Yorker

"Study: Americans trust Fauci more than Trump or their own governors" — USA Today

"Dr. Anthony Fauci and Andrew Cuomo remain the most trusted leaders on coronavirus, while Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are the least trusted" — Business Insider 

But things seem to have turned in recent weeks as the ubiquitous Fauci continues to hold interview after interview with the same message about the way Americans should conduct themselves after being vaccinated. Last weekend, for example, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan asked Fauci the following question: “What is the message to vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans as to what they should and should not be doing right now? For example, eating and drinking indoors in restaurants and bars ... is that OK now?”

"No, it's still not OK," Fauci replied, citing new cases still above 50,000 per day before adding: "If you are vaccinated, please remember that you still have to be careful and not get involved in crowded situations, particularly indoors where people are not wearing masks." 

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So, what does that tell us? If you're vaccinated, you still can't meet other vaccinated friends for dinner? Or was Fauci only referring to vaccinated people meeting up with unvaccinated people?

If it’s the former, Fauci would be contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose official recommendation on what vaccinated people can and cannot do says this: "Fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing."

Of course, it would be nice if someone, anyone, would bring up the CDC guidance when interviewing the good doctor about going out for a meal sometime. But challenging Fauci is considered a big no-no by most of the media, whose job is supposed to be to hold the powerful accountable without fear and favor. 

And then there's the situation in Texas and Mississippi, two states whose Republican governors dropped mask mandates on March 2. Fauci called the decision "really quite risky" while adding that it is "a dangerous sign because when that has happened in the past, when you pull back on measures of public health, invariably you’ve seen a surge back up." 

So, how's that surge coming 40 days later? On March 2, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths in Texas was 232. On April 11, there were 24 deaths in the state, with the seven-day rolling average falling to 73 and trending downward, representing a 69 percent drop. Cases also have dropped from above 7,000 in early March to fewer than 4,000 now, according to the CDC. 

When asked about that drop by MSNBC's Willie Geist, Fauci couldn't explain it. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna Vaccine hesitancy among lawmakers slows return to normalcy on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Ky.), who was once a practicing ophthalmologist, is also one of the few people who has challenged Fauci, including on Monday with this tweet: "Fauci continues to ignore 100 years of vaccine science. His only real theme is 'do what I say' even when it makes no sense."

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Americans who have recovered from or been vaccinated against the coronavirus should "go about your life," Paul said. "Eat, drink, work, open the schools. Enough with the petty tyrants!"

 

Paul also challenged Fauci in a heated exchange during a Senate hearing last month after Fauci attended the hearing  which consisted of vaccinated senators and, therefore, was within the CDC guideline of not needing a mask  while wearing not one but two masks.

"What studies do you have that people that have had the vaccine or have had the infection or the vaccine are spreading the infection? If we're not spreading the infection, isn't that just theater? You've had the vaccine and you're wearing two masks, isn't that theater?" Paul asked.

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And speaking of theater, here's a tweet from President BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner on Hannity touts Trump: 'He was a disruptor' Argentina launches 'Green Mondays' campaign to cut greenhouse gases On The Money: Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium | Biden says he's open to compromise on corporate tax rate | Treasury unsure of how long it can stave off default without debt limit hike MORE that includes his administration being socially distanced and fully masked. All of the people in the photo had been vaccinated, so why the masks? Why the social distancing? Why the virtue signaling? Again, what public message does this send about the effectiveness of the vaccine?

And then there's the media, which continue to mostly push doom-and-gloom in an effort to horrify readers and viewers. Take NBC's "Meet the Press" booking again this past Sunday of Michael Osterholm, who serves as the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. On Feb. 13, here's what Osterholm had to say about how the horizon looked as it pertained to COVID-19 and reopening schools fully in-person: “I think this discussion’s going to be all for naught soon. When B.1.1.7 [a COVID-19 variant first reported in the United Kingdom] takes over in six weeks or so, I think our whole country is going to be approaching its darkest days with this virus.”

We're now at eight weeks since that prediction. 

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On Feb. 13, the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. was 2,866, according to Worldmeters. On April 12, the daily death toll dropped to 635. For those keeping score at home, that's a 78 percent decrease during what was supposed to be our "darkest days" of the pandemic. 

No matter. The moderator of NBC's program, Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddSanders knocks James Carville: 'I don't think he's terribly relevant to what happens in Congress right now' Portman: Pre-K, community college not 'typically' a government responsibility Yellen: 'Safest' thing to do is make sure infrastructure plan is paid for MORE, couldn't bother to do what the late Tim Russert surely would have done in this situation — play Osterholm's Feb. 13 comments back to him.  

Instead, the doctor said this about traveling after being vaccinated. And it's terrifying: "Let me just give an example on the airplane flight. When you get vaccinated, it's like buying a fireproof suit that works 90 to 95 percent of the time. But it doesn't work all the time. So why want to walk into a big fire if you don't have to? So what they are basically saying is, 'Yes, if you are vaccinated you can start opening up a lot of things in your life that you couldn't do before.' But now, if you know you're going to be walking into a fire, why do it?”

In other words, getting the vaccine means not going out with your friends to a restaurant, according to Fauci. Or taking a much-deserved vacation, according to Osterholm. Because that's like walking into a big fire, right? 

Living in fear for the foreseeable future seems to be the overall message that many Americans are hearing from more than a few doctors who really need to get their media-exposure diets under control. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.