Dr Anthony Fauci, who led US fight against COVID-19, faces threats from right-wing extremists

Dr Anthony Fauci was the face of the United States COVID-19 response as the nation's top infectious disease expert.

The virus exploded in the United States, where more than 1.1 million of its citizens died. Dr Fauci stood beside President Trump then President Biden, advising both Commanders-in-Chief the best way to navigate through the pandemic.

Since then, Dr Fauci has been a target for both right-wing politicians as well as extremists who have sent him death threats.

Dr Fauci feels that life these days is as busy as it was a year ago when he was leading America's National Institute of Health - an organization he served for 54 years. He joined Newshub around lunchtime from his Washington office, appearing cheerful, energized and with what may be a fresh haircut.

Dr Fauci's day starts with "hundreds" of emails he laughed, before beginning work at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He has joined its teaching staff, while simultaneously working on his memoir, "because I want to make it an example for young people who want to see what it's like to have a career in public service," he told Newshub.

It's that career in public service that has seen the 82-year-old become an unlikely target for right-wing extremists. He now requires a publicly-funded security detail to follow him everywhere, offering protection. It doesn't take a forensic examination of social media platforms to find disparaging comments about Dr Fauci. Recently, one prominent US senator recently said that he should be jailed.

"Some of them are credible threats of violence against me and my family, that I have to be walking around with federal marshals protecting me, which is completely crazy that a public health official is getting threatened because he's propagating proper and accurate public health principles," he told Newshub.

The circumstances America's COVID doctor finds himself in can be linked to disinformation spread during and since the height of the pandemic. Dr Fauci was regularly in an awkward position having to disagree with his boss, former US President Donald Trump. His occasional rebuke of Trump's comments saw Dr Fauci chastised by Trump supporters on the political right.

Many of President Trump's supporters rallied against the health advice Dr Fauci was offering, including mask-wearing and the promotion of vaccines, while at times offering their own untested preventive measures and cures to anyone who would listen online.

Dr Fauci likes to use a phrase first coined by a former US Senator to explain his thinking around the phenomenon of questioning once unquestionable facts, by saying: "You can have your own opinion about a given fact and how to interpret it. But you're not entitled to your own set of facts."

"I have found it astounding," he went on to say. "But now it's almost normal fare that when an untruth that has actually been proven to be untrue gets spread in the social media. It doesn't matter if it's proven to be untrue."

Dr Anthony Fauci, who led US fight against COVID-19, faces threats from right-wing extremists
Photo credit: Getty Images

The impact waves of disinformation has had on the United States and other nations since the pandemic isn't lost on Dr Fauci. While speaking over our Zoom call, he is openly animated when it comes to the topic - something that has likely kept him up at night, given the impact it has had on his life and those around him.

"I don't want to make it seem so melodramatic, but it seems to erode the foundations of democracy because if you can't believe the truth," he said.

"If you look back historically on how governments have failed and tyrannies ever have risen, it's when people essentially take control over information, a lot of which is untrue. That's a very scary situation."

Don't completely disregard COVID 

Approaching the US winter when cases are likely to spike, Dr Fauci acknowledged what is sometimes referred to as COVID "fatigue". The phrase refers to people who are tired of wearing masks or being told to get another booster vaccine.

"Everybody wants this pandemic to be in the rear-view mirror behind us," he said. "We have got to recognize that we are not completely finished with COVID."

In the last week of America's Centers of Disease Control records, the end of September, there were 18,000 new hospital admissions across the United States. New Zealand is seeing a rolling average of around 500 cases per week.

"So, we'll have to deal with a low level of it that doesn't disrupt society and the social order, doesn't interfere with the economy, but still is respected as a threat, particularly for vulnerable people," he said.