When I decided to go to medical school and become a physician, I did not think of it as a hazardous occupation. Yes, I knew I would be exposed to more infections than the average person. Sadly, there have been over 600 health care workers who have died fighting COVID in the Unites States. I certainly never felt as a physician that others would threaten me and my family because I was doing my job. But that is what is happening to Anthony Fauci, MD and other physicians in public health around the country.
Last month, in an interview sponsored by Harvard University, Fauci described how he, his wife, and his three grown daughters have had to deal with harassment. He stated, “Getting death threats for me and my family and harassing my daughters to the point where I have to get security is just, I mean, it’s amazing.” He continued, “I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles are so set against it, and don’t like what you and I say, namely in the word of science, that they actually threaten you. I mean, that to me is just strange.”
When talking heads without any medical background, such as Tucker Carlson of Fox News, call Fauci a “fraud” and a “chief buffoon of the professional class,” all of us as physicians should be mad as hell that something like this could be happening to this esteemed 79-year-old allergist/infectious disease physician trying to do everything in his power to conquer this virus and save American lives.
It is bad enough that Dr. Fauci had to take this abuse, but it has not stopped there. Public health physicians around the country have been harassed and threatened, leading to a high number of resignations. In a story published on June 23 by CNN, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles Public Health Director described the number of threats she was getting. At a live public briefing on Facebook “someone very casually suggested” that she should be shot. According to an article from Modern Healthcare on August 10, at least 69 state and public health leaders across 23 states have resigned, retired, or been fired since June. The article related the story of Dr. Amy Acton, who resigned under pressure from lawmakers in June as the State Health Director in Ohio due to her role in the state’s lockdown measures. She faced lawsuits and there were protesters, some with guns, outside her home in suburban Columbus.
In rural Colorado, Emily Brown was fired in late May as director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department after clashing with county commissioners over reopening recommendations. On a Facebook post, a photo of her and other health officials appeared with comments about their weight and references to “armed citizens” and “bodies swinging from trees.” The person who replaced her resigned July 9.
I could go on and on. We should all be horrified at what is happening to our public health colleagues during this pandemic. It is an affront to all of us in the health care field. At a time when our leaders and political pundits should be listening to us and letting science lead the way, many are instead turning the public against physicians and making comments and decisions which endanger the population. When we finally get an effective vaccine, will the public be so jaded that its widespread use will be jeopardized? We must speak out about any pseudoscience in the community and stand up for our brave colleagues who are doing a vital job for us in public health.
– Michael Blaiss, MD, FACAAI, Executive Medical Director