- The government is increasing Dr. Fauci’s personal security detail over concerns for his safety.
- According to reports, the decision is due to unwanted communication from admirers and the recent spread of right-wing conspiracy theories claiming he is a “deep-state” agent sent to undermine Trump.
- When asked if he felt threatened during an interview Thursday, Dr. Fauci responded in part: “I’ve chosen this life.”
Dr. Fauci Security Concerns
Government officials have decided to give Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus taskforce, a personal security detail amid growing concerns over the doctor’s safety.
The move was first reported Wednesday by the Washington Post and has since been confirmed to other outlets.
According to sources in the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who spoke to the Post, the concerns “include threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers.”
While the Post reported that the “exact nature of the threats” were not clear, sources told the newspaper that HHS Secretary Alex Azar had “recently grew concerned about Fauci’s safety as his profile rose and he endured more vitriolic criticism online.”
Conspiracy Theories and Smear Campaign
Dr. Fauci has been the target of right-wing smear campaigns and conspiracy theories. According to reports, the conspiracies center around the idea that he is part of a “deep-state” plot to undermine Trump, stemming from the fact that Dr. Fauci has been known to correct or clarify statements the president has made.
While some of these conspiracies have been connected to the doctor for several weeks now, many point to a press conference on March 20 as a specific instance that caused them to gain traction.
During the conference, Trump referred to the State Department the “Deep State Department,” and Dr. Fauci, standing behind him, put his hand over his eyes.
Fauci later claimed he just had a lozenge stuck in his throat, but the incident became fuel for right-wing conspiracy theorists, who claimed that it was evidence Dr. Fauci was trying to undermine Trump.
“On Twitter and Facebook, a post that falsely claimed he was part of a secret cabal who opposed Mr. Trump was soon shared thousands of times, reaching roughly 1.5 million people,” the New York Times reported.
After that, the online attacks grew as more prominent right-wing pundits and blogs began to spread them.
Conservative platforms including as the Gateway Pundit and the American Thinker shared an email Dr. Fauci sent in 2013 that had been published by WikiLeaks, where Fauci praised Hillary Clinton’s “stamina and capability” during her testimony during the Bengazhi hearings.
The American Thinker ran that story with the headline: “Anthony Fauci, the NIH’s face of the coronavirus, is a Deep-State Hillary Clinton–loving stooge.”
Those emails were also shared by Bill Mitchell, a far-right podcast host with more than half a million followers.
“Is Fauci a Hillary plant? Think about this,” he wrote on Twitter. “Trump makes a hopeful statement on #hydrochloroquine and Fauci immediately runs to #CNN, Trump’s most hated #FakeNews outlet to contradict him? That is EXACTLY what a Hillary plant would do.”
Mitchell and others have also accused Fauci of destroying the economy. That point was echoed in another article by the American Thinker, which was retweeted by Fox News Host Laura Ingraham to her 3.2 million followers.
These conspiracies have since been spread on most social media platforms.
“On YouTube, conspiracy-theory videos about Dr. Fauci have racked up hundreds of thousands of views in the past week,” the New York Times wrote. “In private Facebook groups, posts disparaging him have also been shared hundreds of times and liked by thousands of people.”
Buzzfeed News also reported that the conspiracy theories involving Dr. Fauci had been shared on 4chan, where “anonymous users have posted dozens of huge threads about Fauci, implying he’s part of a global pedophile ring after surfacing a photo of him and singer Elton John, claiming Trump has secretly fired him, and accusing him of being part of a global Jewish cabal.”
Trump, however, has tried to tamp down accusations that there are tensions between him and Fauci. In fact, in the last few days, he has taken up more of the doctor’s recommendations regarding social distancing and other concerns.
When asked about the security detail during a press briefing Wednesday, Dr. Fauci did not comment, but Trump interjected, “He doesn’t need security, everybody loves him.”
During an interview Thursday morning on NBC, Dr. Fauci was asked if he felt threatened.
“I’ve chosen this life. I mean I know what it is,” he responded. “There are things about it that are sometimes disturbing. But you just focus on the job you have to do, and just put all that stuff aside and try as best as possible not to pay attention to it, and just forge ahead.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Buzzfeed News)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air
While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.
Booster Rollout in Flux
President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.
The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.
However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.
The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.
Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.
Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.
Debate Continues in Crucial Week
More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.
On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.
The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide.
On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.
The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”
Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.
Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.
“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”
It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.
Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.
Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.
Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.
“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”