Fauci says polio and smallpox would still be spreading in the US if anti-vaxx misinformation had been as popular in the past

fauci niaid
Dr. Anthony Fauci in Washington DC on February 25, 2021.

  • Dr Anthony Fauci in a CNN interview addressed anti-vaccination misinformation.
  • If there was the same pushback against smallpox vaccines in the past the disease would still be around, he said.
  • Vaccination rates in the US have stalled as Fox News hosts and GOP lawmakers push anti-vaccination propaganda.
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The White House’s top medical advisor, Dr Anthony Fauci, has said that the US’ campaigns to innoculate people against diseases in the past would not have been successful if anti-vaccination misinformation had been as popular as it is now.

Fauci, who is one of the top experts in infectious diseases in the US, made the comments as vaccination rates in the US stall, and conspiracy theorists backed by top-rated hosts on the right-wing Fox News network and Republican lawmakers seek to erode faith in the shot.

In an interview with CNN Saturday, host Jim Acosta asked Fauci whether history could have played out differently if public health authorities in the past had had to battle the waves of misinformation currently spreading in the US.

Acosta asked if he thought “we could have defeated the measles or eradicated polio if you had Fox News, night after night, warning people about these vaccine issues that are just bunk.”

Fauci said: “We probably would still have smallpox, and we probably would still have polio in this country if we had the kind of false information that’s being spread now,” Fauci said.

On Friday President Joe Biden singled out Facebook for criticism, saying the social media platform was “killing people” by allowing COVID-19 misinformation to spread on its platform.

The White House has missed its target of vaccinating 70% of the US population by July 4, and the huge surge in people initially seeking the injection has leveled. Infection rates driven by the more infectious Delta variant are rising, with White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients saying last week that 4 states with relatively low vaccination rates were driving 40% of new cases.

Fox News hosts and some GOP lawmakers have stepped up a campaign to erode faith in the vaccines in recent months, which experts told Insider in February was likely partly a bid to damage Biden’s vaccination strategy and score political points.

Fauci has become a hate figure for some right-wingers. A PAC linked to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has even started selling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” merchandise.

In the interview with CNN, Fauci expressed his bafflement at the hostility directed at him.

“Taking an individual who stands for public health, for truth… and to use my name in a derogatory way to prevent people from doing things that’s for the benefit of their own health, go figure that one out.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.

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