Fauci COVID Criticism May Set Him Up for Failure on Monkeypox

Health authorities are investigating several cases of monkeypox that have recently emerged throughout the world, including in the U.K., Germany and the U.S., where the public's trust in the nation's top infectious disease expert may be hindered by past criticism.

While the U.S. has only confirmed one case of monkeypox so far amid the current rise, previous criticisms of Dr. Anthony Fauci may make it more difficult for him to lead certain segments of the public through a larger monkeypox outbreak, according to one expert.

Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), became a household name in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But conservative media attacks and other factors, including criticism of masking and vaccination requirements, resulted in a gradual degradation of American confidence in Fauci.

As of April this year, for example, research from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that more than half of adults, 53 percent, trust COVID-19 vaccine information from Fauci. But among Republicans, that figure is much lower. Between December 2020 and April 2022, the share of Republicans who said they trusted Fauci to provide reliable COVID-19 vaccine information fell from 47 percent to 25 percent.

Mollyann Brodie is the executive vice president, chief operating officer and director of the Public Opinion and Survey Research Program at the KFF. She told Newsweek that at the start of the pandemic in 2020, Fauci had "a lot of trust" among the American public in general. He maintained a high level of trust among Democrats, but it fell among Republicans "as the pandemic became more and more polarized," she said.

Fauci COVID Record Could Impact Monkeypox Response
While the U.S. has only confirmed one case of monkeypox so far amid the current rise, the eroded reputation of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, may cause difficulties in the U.S. response if the virus becomes more prevalent. Above, Fauci testifies during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill on May 17 in Washington, D.C. Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images

"I think it's just really reflective of the polarized nature that the pandemic has played out over the past few years, even more so than as a direct reflection on Dr. Fauci or any other public health official," Brodie said.

If monkeypox were to become more prevalent in the U.S., there's a possibility that the partisan distrust of Fauci and other public health leaders and institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic could carry over, Brodie said.

When asked whether the divided trust could ultimately cause Fauci to fail in leading the U.S. through a monkeypox outbreak, she said that there is a concern that a segment of the population could potentially not listen to warnings during the emergence of another health crisis. Brodie reiterated that research indicates that the majority of Americans still do trust Fauci and institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration.

"Even though there's a segment of the population that may be more resistant to hearing public health messages, there's still a fair level of trust in the nation more broadly," Brodie said.

How the public may respond in the future "would just depend on how politically the next public health emergency is portrayed by the media and how effective the government and the public health response is seen by various aspects of the political system," she added.

Conservative media and some Republican figures have repeatedly taken aim at Fauci in the more than two years since the pandemic began. One journalist, for example, compared Fauci to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, while Senator Rand Paul has accused him of using his position of power to take aim at scientists he disagreed with.

The one confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S. is a far cry from the current numbers regarding COVID-19 in America. The U.S. last week surpassed 1 million known COVID deaths, The New York Times reported.

"Transmission of monkeypox virus occurs when a person comes into contact with the virus from an animal, human, or materials contaminated with the virus. The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth)," the CDC explained, calling monkeypox a "rare disease."

The one confirmed case of monkeypox in the U.S. was discovered in a Massachusetts man. New York City is also investigating another possible case in a patient who tested positive for the virus that causes monkeypox, Axios reported on Saturday.

Newsweek reached out to Fauci via the NIAID and the WHO for comment.