Washington DC residents met Dr Anthony Fauci with a mix of cheers, sincere questions about vaccines, and wild conspiracy theories during an outreach tour early in the pandemic, a new documentary shows.
The footage is a sign of how politically polarising the pandemic – and the most public spokesperson for the US government’s response to it – became over the last three years.
In June of 2021, Dr Fauci, who lead the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and advised seven different presidential administrations, visited the DC neighbourhood of Anacostia with the city’s mayor Muriel Bowser, an event captured in a scene from a forthcoming episode of PBS’s American Masters documentary series.
As Dr Fauci explains during the outset of the visit, Anacostia is a historically marginalised Black area with low determinants of health, poor access to care, and high rates of Covid and vaccine hesitancy as a result.
“They’re sort of the disenfranchised group that we’ve got to reach out to,” he tells the camera.
Some are thrilled to have Dr Fauci pay them a house call.
One woman starts to tear up and says, “Oh my God Dr Fauci!” while another says she wants to come off her porch and give him a kiss.
One resident proudly tells the delegation she got vaccinated “because I felt I need to be a solution and not part of the problem.”
Others were on the fence.
Dr Fauci gently corrects a mother who mistakenly believed getting the vaccine would mean her accidentally infecting her kids, when the jab in fact is way to protect them.
Another, an elderly woman, worries about getting the vaccine because it “does things to me.”
At this, she and Dr Fauci realise they are both in their 80s, and he assures her it’s safe.
One man begins by expressing a common frustrating, that public health officials could’ve been clear in giving information about the pandemic, before veering off into conspiracy theories and insisting there’s a shady “something going on” behind the scenes with the vaccine.
“The people in America are not settled with the information that’s being given to us right now,” he tells the delegation.
“Y’all campaign is about fear,” he continues. “It’s about inciting fear in people. You attack people with fear. That’s what this pandemic is: fear.”
Despite Dr Fauci’s explanations that the Covid vaccine is the culmination of decades of research and analysis, the man is unpersuaded and the mayoral group moves on.
Through the pandemic, Dr Fauci, who retired in December, was a lightning rod for controversy, often from Republicans and conservative media figures, because he clashed with Donald Trump and his allies’ opposition to vaccine mandates and Covid shutdowns.
In July of 2021, shortly after Dr Fauci’s Anacostia tour, Senator Rand Paul accused the expert of carrying out a cover-up of a lab leak he believed led to Covid and thus “trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million dying around the world from a pandemic”.
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially,” Dr Fauci said in reply. “You do not know what you’re talking about.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies