Nixon Foundation President Hugh Hewitt
Interviews Dr. Anthony Fauci
Nixon Foundation President Hugh Hewitt interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci on his radio show on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Read the transcript below or listen to the complete interview here.
HH: The Greeks have the Oracle of Delphi, and Americans have the Oracle of Fauci. And Dr. Anthony Fauci joins me now. Good morning, Dr. How are you?
AF: I’m well, thank you. How are you?
HH: I’m terrific. Thank you for all you’re doing for the country. My wife, who we refer to as the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt here wanted me to say you’re a rock star and everybody knows it.
AF: Why, thank you. Thank you.
HH: I want to thank, by the way, your wife, Christine, your daughters Jennifer, Megan and Alison. They must be worried about you like my daughter is worried about me. Is that true?
AF: That is correct. They really are. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case, but they really are.
HH: Well, you’re working hard. I mean, you’re making a mockery of all of us who think we work hard in our 60s, but you’re in your 70s. I have a question, though. My daughter, who I refer to as Rumpel, she who must be obeyed, is now telling me what I can and cannot do. Is that what you intended to do, to empower children to tell their parents what to do and not to do?
AF: Well, you know, whatever it takes, really, to get things done in an appropriate manner. Very often, children, and my own children, I can say for sure, have a significant influence on your behavior. When they come in, they give you a new kind of reality test. So when they tell you to stay home or distance yourself from people and don’t go to crowded places, you listen to them. If you sort of see it on TV or read about it or hear about it on the radio, it kind of goes by you without really hitting you. But when your children tell you, that’s a different story.
HH: Now I want to drill down on seniors. My target audience, we’ve got 6 million people who listen to this show. The vast majority of them are between 45 and 64, but we’ve got a lot of older people as well. A lot of grandparents, including me, all of my grandkids are under 9. This weekend, I was going to go drive and see them, because my daughter’s alone. My son-in-law is deployed. And they’re three kids under 9, and she said to me yesterday, don’t come. Is she right?
AF: You know, she is. Right now, what we’re trying to do, and you know, yesterday at the White House Taskforce press conference, we made an announcement to really ratchet up some of the guidelines for what we call physical and social distancing. And one of them if you have someone who is elderly and particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition such as heart disease and lung disease or diabetes that puts them at an increased risk of getting the complications of Coronavirus, if in fact they get infected, you really want to protect those vulnerable people. So the guideline, as stringent as it sounds, I think it’s, it’s not I think, I know is appropriate because it has worked in other settings, is to essentially have these individuals, the elderly, self-isolate in the home for at least the next 15 days to see what the direction of this outbreak is. And that means physical separation. Now you don’t want to make someone so socially lonely that their life is miserable, but you want to physically separate yourself from them, because a young person might go out into the community, get infected, and we know how from good experience with China, with South Korea, and now most recently with Italy and France, that younger individuals who get infected tend to do very well. Some of them have minimal symptoms as opposed to the chance of getting into trouble. So a young person may go out, get infected, and inadvertently come back and by physical interaction with the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, might actually infect them. And then the consequences are much more severe than a younger person getting infected.
HH: So Dr. Fauci, I’m going to use myself as an example, and we’ll expand from there. I’m 64. I’m in terrific shape. Just had my physical. Ran seven miles on Kauai a week ago, in fact, the Spouting Horn. I know you run every day 3 ½ miles. I’ve got runner’s back and a tear in a rotator cuff, but I’m in great shape. My grandkids are healthy. You would still tell me don’t go visit them?
AF: No, you know, I would tell you the following, that as a general guideline rule, you should not. But you know, when you talk about the elderly, particularly if as you say you are otherwise really quite healthy, you know, there’s a numerical age, and there’s a physiologic age. And some people who are 55, 60, are really kind of, you know, compromised because they don’t age well, where some people 75 and even 80 who are vigorous, athletic, and they do well. So when you get a guideline, you have a cut-off, and you say well, if you’re 70 years of age or older, there really needs to be some flexibility in interpreting that. I mean, if you want to be totally safe, then you overshoot and say okay, I’m 60 years old, I’m 65, but I’m very, very healthy, but I’m still going to self-isolate, because even though I’m very healthy and I have no issues or problems, I’m not going to take a chance. You can do that. You can do that.
HH: Well, let’s expand it out, Dr. We’ve got seniors who live for golf and who live for tennis. And they’ve got regular golfing partners, and they’ve got regular tennis partners. And they want to go to their club, and they say oh, it’s all very clean, and I’m only going to see the caddy, and I’m only going to see the bag boy, and I’m going to play 18 with my friend who’s also very healthy. Do you want them to stay home?
AF: Well, in general, yes.
AF: But again, with exceptions. For example, you don’t want people to have crowds that are 10 or more. You don’t want to say after you’ve been one on one with someone you then go to the bar and have a few drinks with 50 people in the bar.
AF: Those are the kind of things you don’t want to do. But if you want to bend on the side of caution, I would say even though it’s relatively low risk to go out and mingle with a few people, for now, for the 15 day trial period, I think it’s the better part of valor if you are an elderly person to just hunker down for a couple of weeks, see what the trend of the outbreak is.
HH: Now I’m going to just pause one more time for the, again, the 60-plus crowd and especially the 70-plus crowd. Can they go to the market? Can they get their haircut? Can they go to the pharmacy if they just go and come back?
AF: Well again, it is some flexibility. But for the most part, it depends on how that person feels. If that person is an otherwise healthy 60 year old, yes they can go out to the market. What I would do is do it at a time when the market is not crowded. Do it at a time when there are not a lot of people there. But the default rule would be to self-isolate yourself.
HH: All right, bigger question now, Dr. Fauci. You are like a character in John Barry’s The Great Influenza, like Dr. William Welch, or The Ghost Map’s John Snow and Henry Whitehead. Those are books about the 1918-1920 pandemic and the cholera outbreak in London in 1854. I love public health non-fiction history, even though I’m a lawyer. I love this stuff. Are you aware of being a character in a book that will guide future people about how to handle inevitably future pandemics?
AF: You know, I really don’t think about it that way. I’m so, I’m so intensely involved in what we’re doing with the taskforce here and trying to raise the awareness of the American people, I don’t think of hardly anything else but the job I’m doing. I’m not thinking ahead about books and characters and things like that.
HH: Well, the reason I want to ask you do to it is because the more we know about what this taskforce does, the more it will inform the next pandemic. Do you agree with me about that, that we learn from the behaviors of governments in the face of crises what to do and not to do?
AF: I totally agree with you. In fact, many of the lessons I’ve learned over the years with attacking the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, the Anthrax attacks, the threat of the Bird Flu, Ebola, Zika, all of those things that I’ve had the, you know, the experience, I would say the privilege of being able to participate and help in, those have all informed how I do things now.
[Dr. Fauci’s cell phone rings.]
HH: Is that the President, Dr. Fauci? If it’s the President, we can…we’ll yield.
AF: It isn’t the President, but it’s close.
HH: Okay, well, then I’m not going to yield, then. If it’s Mike Pence, tell him you were talking to Hugh Hewitt, and Mike will, and the Vice President will understand. I want to get your advice. You’re a good Catholic kid, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Regis High School, as am I. I want your specific advice to the Church and other churches that, my diocese in Arlington issued a dispensation to 60 year olds, don’t go to Mass. What’s your advice to priests over 60, to nuns, religious pastors of other denominations, kind-hearted people all over whose natural inclination is to serve their flocks?
AF: Yeah, I think that they should, again, the default that they should do the guidelines the way we have for others. There are 65 year olds 70 year olds, like myself, who have jobs that are important in the community and that are service that you have to say well, for the most part, people are just, in this group, should stay home. But some people have jobs that can’t do that. So I mean, I wouldn’t make a strict rule for an older priest. I would tell the priests that make sure there’s nothing that happens in the Mass, services, the Eucharist, the wine, the host, none of that should endanger people from an infectious disease standpoint. So there are certain things in the Mass a congregation, I might call off if you have people coming together in a church. You know, even individually, it would have to suspend certain aspects of the Mass, certainly drinking wine from the chalice, I would really be careful about.
HH: Now Dr. I want to close with you, and Senator Cotton’s coming up pretty quick. But the big unanswered question, because I don’t know that many members of the White House press corps have actually read The Great Influenza, is that between its appearance in Kansas in the spring of 1918 and its devastating second wave, it went through 12 iterations according to John Barry’s book. And the second and third and fourth, they got deadlier. The hardest question for me to answer is during the summer when the virus appears to disappear, will it be iterating into a more deadly virus? Is there any science to tell us if we’re like getting crowd immunity, or if it’s going to come back in a more virulent form?
AF: You know, we do not know. When we suppressed the SARS Coronavirus, it went away and never came back. We are hoping that if we can suppress this by mitigation and by containment over the next few months that when we get into the deep summer, that it will disappear. If it doesn’t and comes back, hopefully, that will give us more breathing room to develop therapies as well as a vaccine. But the direct answer to your question is we do not know if it will come back and how it will come back. It’s a possibility, but we just need to be prepared for it.
HH: I was cheered yesterday by the record-setting initiation of a trial on a vaccine. I am curious if there is other good news on interventions for those who are suffering from virus pneumonia and related, there’s some pretty awful related maladies. Are they any new interventions that have crossed your screen?
AF: Oh, there are several that are in clinical trial. They have not yet been proven to be effective, but there are a number of interventions, what we call therapies, direct antiviral therapies that are being tested in China, and some that are even being tested here in the United States.
HH: Now my last technical question has to do with the CDC and the testing breakdown. Was that because of regulatory capture? Was that because the CDC always prefers its own work? Was that simply because we were not, we’ve never, I think what the President was saying yesterday is while we’ve confronted Ebola and H1N1, we’ve never confronted as fast a moving virus as this one before that is so elusive to diagnose. What happened on the testing development?
AF: You know, it was a complicated series of multiple things that conflated that just, you know, went the wrong way. One of them was a technical glitch that slowed things down in the beginning. Nobody’s fault. There wasn’t any bad guys there. It just happened. And then when we realized, when the CDC realized, and the FDA said both the system itself as it was set up, which serves certain circumstances very well, was not well-suited to the kind of broad testing that we needed the private sector to get involved in. The regulatory constraints, which under certain circumstances are helpful and protective of the American people were not suited to the emergence of this particular outbreak. So there was a confluence of a bunch of things. I believe now that the CDC and the FDA and the Department, that we’ve got it right now, because we’re handing much of it over to the private sector to heavy hitter companies that do this for a living. And I think what you’re going to be seeing looking forward is a major, major improvement in the availability of testing.
HH: Was the glitch or anything about the production of the test President Trump’s fault? Or actually, let me put it more broadly, would every president have run into the same problem?
AF: Oh, absolutely. This has nothing to do with anybody’s fault, certainly not the President’s fault.
HH: And that brings me to my last question. What is it like working with the President? You’ve worked with a lot of presidents. And by the way, I’ve got two questions. I lied. I have two more questions. What’s it like to work with the President?
AF: It’s an interesting experience. You know, each president has their own unique character. He’s somebody who is very active, a lot of things going on, very direct, very decisive.
HH: And so my last question is about Tony Fauci. You could have retired years ago and made bank. I mean, you could have gone onto every board of every publicly-traded pharmaceutical. You’ve probably given up a hundred million dollars in lost opportunity cost, what economics would call that. Why?
AF: Well, I’m a public servant. I mean, that’s who I am. I am who I am, and I’ve been a public servant for decades and decades. I love it. I love the challenge. And to be quite honest, I mean, money does not mean that much to me at all. I just need enough to get along and get up and go to work. And what I do, I get a great deal of gratification of. So I mean, the idea about how many millions and millions and millions I would have, you know, not had, it doesn’t phase me. I don’t even think about it.
HH: And is that the Catholic in you? Is there a teacher back at Our Lady of Guadalupe who, is there a nun back there who taught Tony Fauci?
AF: Well, there’s a nun, and there’s a bunch of Jesuit priests, too.
HH: Oh, they’re Jesuits? Oh, my gosh. I’m not sure, you’re making news there if it’s Jesuits. Very last question. The Pope took a walk, Dr. Fauci.
HH: What did you make, he’s 83 years old. He’s out walking around going, there’s surface infection, right? Is that what the Pope should be doing?
AF: Well, you know, the Pope is a very special person. He has things and responsibilities to his flock, if you want to call it that, that sometimes supersede things of self-protection.
HH: So you’re not, well, Tony Fauci, I’m not going to ask you to criticize the Pope. I appreciate you spending time with me, Dr. I think those are great guidelines, and I think you’re getting compliance. I lied one more time, because Tom Cotton’s not here. There were thousands of college kids in the water in Florida yesterday. I’m sure you saw the picture. What’s your message to them?
AF: Yeah, I would tell them please, please, even though you yourself feel invulnerable, being in crowds, getting infected, you may inadvertently bring the infection to a vulnerable person who might be your father, your grandfather, your sick uncle. Take care. We all have to be in this together. This is a, you know, all of country pulling together to get through this.
HH: Should they go home?
AF: The kids? Yeah. They should just get out of crowds. That’s what they should do.
HH: We’ll leave it at that. I’m going to pass it off to Senator Tom Cotton, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Thank you. You are wonderful.
AF: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.