After years of drama at White House COVID updates, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, gave a final briefing to reporters Tuesday before leaving government at the end of the year.
Introducing Fauci at the podium “one more time,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the country is “stronger and healthier because of his leadership.”
Fauci pressed the idea that Americans should get up-to-date on their COVID and flu shots ahead of winter, making a final pitch in a long effort to explain to Americans the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines.
“My message — and my final message, maybe the final message I give you from this podium — is that please for your own safety, for that of your family, get your updated COVID-19 shot as soon as you’re eligible to protect yourself, your family and your community,” he said.
As director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Fauci has been a near-constant presence at White House briefings throughout the more than two years of the COVID pandemic.
In 2020, he served as a scientific check to then-President Donald Trump’s musings on the virus. He stayed on after the election of President Joe Biden, who elevated Fauci into a top personal adviser on the pandemic.
Fauci is scheduled to retire from the government next month after more than five decades of service.
Asked by ABC News’ Karen Travers how he wants people to remember his service in government, Fauci said he’d leave it to others to judge but that he “gave it all I got for decades.”
“I think what I’ve accomplished in my 54 years at the NIH and my 38 years as the director of NIAID, although COVID is really really very important, it is a fragment of the total 40 years that I’ve been doing it, “Fauci said.
“I’ll let other people judge the value or not of my accomplishments,” he continued, “but what I would like people to remember about what I’ve done is that every day for all of those years I’ve given it everything that I have and I’ve never left anything on the field.”
Fauci spoke about his decision to retire in an interview with ABC Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl for “This Week” in October.
On Tuesday, he joined Biden’s other top adviser — Dr. Ashish Jha — to discuss the need for Americans to get the bivalent COVID shot.
“Bottom line is that we’re doing everything we can in the next six weeks to help families get their updated COVID shots by the end of the year because it’s the best protection for this winter,” Jha said.
Fauci also reflected on the COVID-19 crisis, saying he would’ve never imagined at the onset that the nation would see “a three-year saga of suffering and death and a million Americans losing their lives.”
The “most disturbing” aspect of the pandemic, he said, is the constantly evolving variants, which make it nearly impossible to stay ahead of the virus.
Asked about the contradictory statements released by the Trump administration in the early days of the crisis, Fauci said they were “dealing with a moving target.”
“When you are dealing with things like reporting and discussing with the press, making recommendations, making guidelines, you have to make it on the basis of the information that you have at that time,” he said. “But what is happening is we are not dealing with a static situation. We are dealing with a dynamic situation.”
Going forward, he said, public officials have to do a better job of underscoring the evolving nature of such outbreaks.
Fauci also lamented the politicization surrounding vaccines and other efforts to mitigate the virus’ spread.
“When I see people in this country, because of the divisiveness in our country, not getting vaccinated for reasons that have nothing to do with public health but have to do because of divisiveness and ideological differences, as a physician, it pains me,” Fauci said, “because I don’t want to see anybody get infected.”
“I don’t want to see anybody get hospitalized,” he added. “I don’t want to see anybody die from COVID. Whether you are a far-right Republican or far-left Democrat doesn’t make a difference to me.”
It is possible Fauci will be called to testify before Congress despite leaving government.
Republicans, who took control of the House in the midterm elections, have signaled they want to investigate his role in overseeing the government’s response to COVID.
Fauci has said that, amid all the attacks on him, he and his family have faced death threats.
Fauci on Tuesday said he would cooperate fully with any oversight hearings conducted by the new Congress.
“I have no trouble testifying, we can defend and explain and stand by everything that we’ve said, so I have nothing to hide,” he said.