Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser, decried the “inexplicable” politicization of COVID-19 vaccines, saying he hoped people would drop their differences and band together to fight their common enemy, the deadly virus, by getting their shots.
“We’ve got to separate political differences from public health issues. There is no room whatsoever in addressing a public health issue, particularly of this magnitude, the likes of which we have not seen in over 100 years, to have political ideology play even the slightest role,” he said in a conversation with Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman at the inaugural Globe Summit, a three-day virtual conference Wednesday through Friday.
“We’ve got to recognize now and in the future ... that we have a common enemy, and the common enemy is the virus, not each other,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “And it’s very interesting that even when people disagree with each other, when they realize they’re fighting a common enemy, they often become allies, and that’s what we really do need.”
“We need people of diverse ideological persuasion, political interests, whatever you want to call it, we need those people to come together to realize there is a consistent, common way to address this virus. When we do that, we will get much closer to controlling this,” he said in the pre-recorded conversation.
Fauci said the “undervaccinated” states are almost all red states, while states that have the best vaccination records are blue states. “There is this inexplicable, and completely destructive in some respects, ideological swing towards whether or not you should get vaccinated and that is really unfortunate,” he said.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last week that 52.8 percent of people in counties that voted for Democratic Joe Biden for president were fully vaccinated compared with 39.9 percent of people in counties that voted for Republican President Donald Trump, and that the gap has widened over time.
“We have the solution to the problem, but we are not adequately implementing the solution to the problem,” Fauci said of vaccinations. “We have a degree of vaccine hesitancy in this country that’s really quite disturbing.”
Fauci, a career civil servant who has advised seven presidents, also referred to his difficult relationship with Trump as he emphasized the need to “respect the boundaries between politics and science.”
“Science is not about opinions. Science is about fact-based guidelines, fact-based recommendations,” he said. He said it was “quite uncomfortable” to publicly disagree with Trump, and he didn’t seek it out. But he sometimes had to do it, to “preserve my integrity and to be honest with the American people, which is who I serve.”
For those who are fully vaccinated, Fauci said he supported boosters and expected that eventually it would become routine for the two-shot vaccines to be a three-shot regimen, and the one-shot vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, to be a two-shot regimen.
“The reason we didn’t know that, right away is because we were dealing with such an emergency situation,” he said. “We needed to show the vaccine was effective and safe, which we did with the two shots, and we needed to implement that to save lives, which we have probably already saved millions of lives. But at the end of the day, I believe the correct regimen is going to be two doses at first, and a few months later, a third dose. For J&J, It’ll be the first dose followed a few months later by the second dose.”
Fauci’s session was one of the first in the Globe Summit, which is bringing together national thinkers and local leaders in business, health, and technology. The event will be held virtually and is free to attend.
In addition to Fauci, other notable speakers include Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research and cofounder of The Emancipator; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; John Kerry, US special envoy for climate; and actress Jenny Slate.
US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey were also scheduled to speak, but backed out as a result of the Globe’s ongoing union negotiations.
The summit will also feature a panel discussion on investigative journalism to celebrate the Globe Spotlight Team’s 50th anniversary.
Looking to the future, Fauci said, there were several things that needed to be done to prepare for the next outbreak, including building up local public health systems, which, he said, were shown to be “inadequate during our rather difficult attempts to do identification, isolation, and contact tracing.” He also said the global health security network needs to be built up to provide “communications, openness, transparency, solidarity among nations.”
And he said vaccine development needs to be swifter.
“We need to have the capability, and we’re working on that right now, of being able to move quickly to develop vaccines to a new pathogen, literally in 100 days and get it distributed in a couple of 100 days, as opposed to something that would take much longer than that,” he said.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.