Anthony Fauci advises Wash U Med School graduates to fight disinformation
In a speech at Washington University on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s most famous infectious disease physicians, implored future doctors to battle disinformation with science and empathy.
Fauci, the former presidential medical adviser who recently retired as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was in St. Louis to deliver the commencement address to graduates of Washington University Medical School. He also received an honorary degree during the university-wide commencement ceremony.
Fauci became a nationally recognized face of the public health response during the coronavirus pandemic. During his address, he used the public health crisis to frame his lessons to the graduating class.
“I hope that you appreciate that alongside the pain, suffering and disruption, the pandemic offered you once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunities from which to launch your medical career and to witness firsthand an historic pandemic,” Fauci told the medical students. “In addition, it helped you to realize your own adaptability and resilience.”
Future doctors also should expect surprises in their work and fight disinformation with medical evidence, he said.
But Fauci also emphasized that medical evidence wasn’t enough. While scientists developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time, the medical establishment struggled to effectively educate the public and gain its trust, he said.
“There are a lot of things we need to self-examine,” he told reporters before his speech. “We had a bit of a disparate response in this country, we had people who denied the fact that vaccines work, people who were actually anti-vaccine. There were people who felt masks were not necessary when we know they are clearly effective in saving lives and preventing people from getting infected.”
Fauci’s stature as a national coronavirus expert made him a target for people who blamed him in part for what they believed were over-the-top government restrictions meant to quell the spread of the virus. They included Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who last year took a deposition from Fauci in a lawsuit alleging the federal government colluded with social media companies to restrict free speech.
The physician’s visit comes just days after the federal government let the federal COVID-19 public health emergency declaration expire.
Students said that the coronavirus was the defining event of their time in college — and that it made sense to have a visible face of the pandemic be present during graduation.
“COVID was a really integral part of our four-year experience,” said graduate Ellie Wells, a Global Studies and English literature major. “To have Fauci on the stage while talking about our COVID experience was a really neat dynamic.”
Eyoel Binyam, who studied philosophy, neuroscience and psychology, said he appreciated seeing Fauci during the years he was studying at Wash U.
“You know, I’m Class of 2023; my freshman year was cut short during the pandemic,” he said. “Fauci was leading the United States and basically how to approach being safe.”