Drs. Rajendran and Fauci (Photo provided to The State Journal)
By Narayanan Rajendran
Kentucky State University
The physicist Albert Einstein wrote a letter in 1939 to President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting that the U.S. should develop its own atomic research.
That information, followed by FDR’s Manhattan Project, has changed U.S. history forever because FDR took the advice seriously. If Adolf Hitler would have developed the atomic bomb first, history would have been written differently.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has played a similar key role by advising President Trump toward speeding up the testing of a new cutting-edge messenger RNA vaccine technology and its quick adoption of toxicological processes in Covid-19 vaccine development by cutting the red tape. He also predicted the putative mutant variants of Covid-19 spreading now as “Covid-20” in the United Kingdom.
Fauci is respected among an elite group of medical scientist, physicians and leaders. His accurate predictability of the causative nature of infectious diseases has made him a “most engaging phenomenon” among research scientists in the world of immunology. Now, common people are witnessing his visionary predictions and public service because of Covid-19, which affected millions all over the world.
Fauci’s career began in 1968 from the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Md. He gradually moved to higher positions and in 1984 became the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the 27 components of NIH. Since then, the world of medical research has witnessed several breakthroughs in infectious diseases.
His research papers are some of the most trustworthy scientific gold mines for medical researchers like me around the world. His contributions during the 9/11 terrorist attack through biodefense drugs and vaccine preparedness was remarkable. He introduced and approved several novel medical technologies.
When we faced HIV outbreaks, SARS outbreaks, swine flu outbreaks, MERS outbreaks, Ebola outbreaks and Zika outbreaks, his leadership efforts changed the course of medical history.
I had an opportunity to do my biomedical research under his leadership at NIAID. When I had a meeting with him for the first time at his NIAID office, I was amazed by his simplicity. The visitors lounge was full of his awards, honors and photos of people and celebrities he has met.
He took me to his office, which was small but well kept. I was surprised. Is this the room of a world-renowned scientist who held 30 honorary doctorates from elite universities around the world? He is also a member of several eminent scientific societies and academies. He was the 13th most-cited research scientist and has more than 1,000 scientific publications and books. Amazing resume!
Those who remember the 1980s will agree that at that time many young researchers, including well-known scientists, avoided working with HIV, a unique retrovirus. Fauci stepped up to the plate and worked hard to study the connection between HIV and its disease, called AIDS.
His contributions in the field of human immune response and therapies as well as immune-suppressive mechanisms are extraordinary. Though the air was charged with foul languages against him in the 1980s as a result of the facts he revealed about how HIV spreads in certain groups and how this RNA virus causes AIDS among those groups, those who insulted and name-called him during the peak of the HIV outbreaks later praised his courageous candid comments and his genuine science. In 2020, many people watched his persistent call on social distancing and mask-wearing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Fauci served under five presidents and advised them on epidemic diseases. In 2014, he closely worked with President Barack Obama on the Ebola outbreak. His words were not taken as political statements but rather praised as scientific facts in planning for the future.
In 2020, Fauci worked with President Trump on the Covid task force. Though Trump publicly appreciated Fauci in the early months of 2020, the news media noticed the friction between them, especially after July 2. Trump released the famous exploding tweet “#FireFauci,” which gained much attention among his followers. Trump was consulting on how safe it would be to remove Fauci from the position.
Trump’s and Fauci’s relationship had turned sour when the Covid death count increased to 230,000. The day before the election, Trump said he might fire Fauci, though technically it was not feasible. At that time, Joe Biden stepped up and said he would hire Fauci back if that happened.
Several of us remember the Facebook live stream of Fauci on July 6 discussing the resurgence of infections. The next day, he said July 4 celebrations may have resulted in 55,000 new Covid cases. It was a piece of devastating bad news for the already struggling nation, and especially to Trump.
When the White House was making a rosy picture while downplaying the rate of Covid deaths, Fauci warned the public not to gain false complacency. As usual, his candid comment irritated Trump and his followers. As a result, the White House did not invite Fauci to his three subsequent meetings.
Fauci is not a lobbyist or politician, which is why he said protest of any kind, for any cause, could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases. In my opinion, if we collectively followed his “wearing a mask and social distancing” advice, we could have saved thousands of Americans, and we may not be in this awkward situation by losing more than 325,000 people in the U.S. alone.
Albert Einstein predicted time travel in 1916. One hundred years later, Fauci predicted the time and spread of Covid-19. On Christmas Eve, Fauci turned 80 years old. Though some dislike his proactive warnings, many educated Americans and others respect him a lot. There is no question that he is the “Einstein of Epidemic Diseases” in our time.
Narayanan Rajendran, Ph.D., is a professor of biology at Kentucky State University. He can be reached at Prof.Raj18@gmail.com. A longer version of this column appeared in The (Frankfort) State Journal.