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Dr. Fauci's tips for the tripledemic

Episode Summary

Dr. Anthony Fauci talks with us about his career, his tips to remain healthy during this tripledemic and reveals his favorite Jesuit saint.

Episode Notes

Dr. Anthony Fauci is one of the most prominent public health officials in history due to his work during the HIV/AIDS crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He’s about to step down from his long-held roles as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor, but before he goes, we wanted to get some last bits of advice about how to stay safe this holiday season and beyond.

Today, he joins us to reflect on the lessons learned in his career, the future of public health, and high school memories of basketball and Catholic saints.

Plus, stick around after the interview for a moving tribute to P-22. Read the full transcript here

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci

More reading:

Fauci’s warning to America: ‘We’re living in a progressively anti-science era and that’s a very dangerous thing’

Review: ‘Fauci’ illuminates even as it flatters ‘America’s doctor’

Fauci: ‘There’s no way’ the coronavirus was made with U.S. research funds. Here’s why

Episode Transcription

This is an unedited transcript. We apologize for the mistakes. A corrected transcript is coming soon.

Gustavo: Well, folks, it's that time of the year again and no, I'm not talking about a bunch of tamales in presence. Sadly covid cases are rising again. And it's just one part of this winter's "tripledemic"


Gustavo: Earlier this month, the CDC and other public health agencies recommended that major cities, including Los Angeles, start reaching for masks. Again. Will this ever end?

This is the sort of question that Dr. Anthony Fauci has been answering for decades

Dr. Fauci: I have 54 years of experience as a scientist at the nih, 38 years of experie. As the director of the institute, and I've had the pleasure and the privilege of advising seven Presidents of the United States.

But he's about to end that streak. In just 8 days, Fauci will be stepping down from his multiple leadership roles. So, before he ends his tenure, we wanted to get some final words of advice about how we should be dealing with this moment.

Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to the Times Essential News from the LA Times. It's Friday, December 23rd, 2022. Today, We hear from Dr. Fauci about covid, his career and the future of public health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, welcome to the Times.

Dr. Fauci: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.

Gustavo: So, in just about a week, you're going to be stepping down from your current roles, but before you do, I have a lot of questions. Pretty soon here, we're gonna enter our fourth year of the Covid pandemic. Are you worried about the collective health of the nation right now?

Dr. Fauci: Well, um, first of all, we're doing much, much better now than we were doing a year and a half ago where we were having literally 800,000 cases a day and three to four thousand deaths. But I'm concerned that we're might get complacent because we're not out of this yet. We are approaching the colder weeks and months of the late fall and the early winter.

We're approaching a big holiday season in December and people will congregate indoors. And if you look. , the fact that we're seeing an uptick in infections and even in hospitalizations, and we really need to do better in getting people vaccinated. We only have 69% of the total population have gotten their primary series, and only half of them have gotten their first booster.

And the thing that's most troubling to me is that we have a good update. Booster the Bivalent BA four five, and yet only 13% of the eligible population in this country has actually received that. We've gotta do much better than that. And you're asking what do I foresee as we go into the fourth year?

Well, you know, our fate is in our own hands. If we do the appropriate public health measures to mitigate against any further surges, we should do fine. But that's not gonna happen spontaneously. We've gotta go out and we've gotta get back vaccinated and we've gotta get boosted. And if people do get infected and they're high risk, we have very good antivirals that are available.

We're underutilizing the antivirals like Pax Livid and other antivirals. So there are a lot of things that we can do better to prevent any more serious issues vis-a-vis more surges, increase in hospitalizations, and increases in deaths.

Gustavo: And then one of the other things that we still have, and we're probably gonna have for a. I know people who suffer from it. To what extent are people at risk from those long lasting symptoms, and do you think we should maybe be taking more precautions because of that?

Dr. Fauci: Well, it's first of all, the answer to your second question is, yes, of course we need to take. Long covid. Seriously, it's a real phenomenon. Depending upon the criteria that you use to define it, anywhere from a few percent to up to 15 or 20% of people will have the prolongation and the persistence of some level of symptomatology that goes on for weeks and even months or longer following the resolution of the acute phase of the infection.

Now, some of those symptoms could. Troublesome, but not totally incapacitating like chronic fatigue and inability to perform at the level that you were before. But in some unfortunate individuals, it can be really rather incapacitating. And there's an estimate that about a million people in the United States have not been able to go back to work due to long covid symptoms.

That's quite serious. And if you look, even if a very small percentage, Very small percentage of the population. If you take the lower limit, even if that amount gets low covid, and you look at the pure volume of numbers of people who've been infected in this country, you know, almost over a hundred million people, you're talking about a significant impact on public health.

Gustavo: There's just been so much fatigue these days, really from the beginning when it came to the pandemic, and a lot of that comes from all the misinformation and. Infusion that has spread around, there's been protests, campaigns against public health agencies and officials like you. What do you think it's going to take for the skepticism?

I mean, I, it bothers me that only 13% of folks have gotten that second booster. I'm one of those people who got that booster. So what is it going to take for that skepticism to die down and for people to continue getting boosted or even vaccin?

Dr. Fauci: You know, know, I don't think there's an easy answer to that. There is a level and a profound nature of the divisiveness in this country, which is really very disturbing. Where. Public health principles and public health recommendations are influenced by political ideology. We've gotta pull away from that. I'm just hoping that the country as a whole, not everybody's going to feel that way, but more and more people realize that the common enemy is the virus, and we've gotta pull together utilizing good public health principles to prevent further spread and to make sure individual, Who otherwise would not have been protected if they didn't get vaccinated.

We've gotta get them vaccinated because pulling back and not getting vaccinated results in the loss of lives. Vaccination is a life saving intervention. We've gotta utilize that to its maximum.

Gustavo: do you think the Biden administration is making headways towards.

Dr. Fauci: The Biden administration is certainly trying, uh, I mean they're doing everything they can. They just came out with a, uh, plan as we approach. The winter to make it much more easy for people to get vaccinated, to make it much more easy for people to be tested. They've reactivated the COVID website today so that people can now go in and continue to get their free tests. so the administration is trying very hard to alleviate what is potentially gonna be a problem as we get further into the winter.

Gustavo: Coming up after the break, Dr. Fauci on the lessons he learned from activists during the HIV AIDs epidemic, and how that work prepared him for the fight against Covid.

Dr. Fauci tackling Covid is how you spent your last years in public service, but you also spent a big chunk of it focusing on H I V and aids and. Both of those pandemics have been pretty polarizing. As someone who has been so deeply involved in the response to both emergencies, did you notice any patterns between the two or even any major differences that caught you by surprise?

Dr. Fauci: Well, the major difference is, uh, much, much clearer than the similar. And the difference is that the, there wasn't really polarization during H I V. There was a bit of a stigma in the beginning, which still we have traces of that now. But the pushback against the government and against authority by the activists was motivated by real appropriate concerns that the government was being too rigid in their inclusion or lack of inclusion.

Of the constituents who were either infected or at risk. The regulatory approach towards the approval of new drugs was also time-honored and, and good for another era, but it didn't apply well to hiv aids. So what the activist were trying to do, and ultimately successfully they did, was to gain the attention of the authorities like myself.

And one of the best things I've ever done in my career. Was to listen to them. And even though they were pushing back, being iconoclastic and theatrical and disruptive, they were doing that for a good purpose to get our attention on issues that deserved our attention. And once we started listening to what they were saying, we actually realized that what they were saying was absolutely correct.

We modified our approach and the system improved. That's very, From the divisiveness, the disinformation, the conspiracy theories that we're experiencing now with Covid. Very, very different.

Gustavo: You mentioned the activism and you described it as theatrics. Was there one protest or one action in particular that you remember that stuck with you and maybe told you? Maybe I should start listening to what they're saying instead of just dismissing the theatrics. Cause I remember at that time people were just saying like, oh, they're just loud mouths, but obviously you listened and you talked to them.

Dr. Fauci: One of several things which turned me around was when I went to San Francisco to the. Stroke district. And I went to the bedside of a person who was suffering from h I v, who was also losing his vision, uh, due to cytomegalovirus infection, which destroys the retina. And there was a very rigid, uh, approach in the regulatory system, the fda, that if you were on a drug for H I V, you couldn't be on a drug for the c m.

So it was sort of didn't make any sense. And I went to the person's room and //He said, Dr. Fauci, you guys are telling me I could either take a medicine for h I v live a little longer and then go blind, or I could take a medication for my cmv, save my vision, but die.

H I V. That is a completely untenable choice. And that's when I realized, oh my goodness, this guy makes perfect sense. We've gotta be much more flexible. And that was one of the more dramatic things that turned me around and got me to realize that we've gotta be much more flexible in our approach.

Gustavo: How important of a role then do you think public activism plays in improving public?

Dr. Fauci: I think well informed. Public activism with good intention does a great deal to improve public health. The witness, in case in point, is how the approach to H I V was so vastly improved by embracing the activist community for.

Gustavo: Think we might see something similar today, especially coming from people who are struggling with long covid, because a lot of the government response has been vax, vax, vax, which is important as well. But with long covid, a lot of people are saying, well, the government really hasn't started paying attention to what we're doing or to what's happening to us. 

Dr. Fauci: That that's not the case. A lot of effort is being put in. The frustration is that it is such a perplexing syndrome and it's mechanisms of how you get long covid are really not very well understood. Who putting a lot of effort into trying to understand it. Uh, there are things that are showing some promise, like people who are vaccinated and get infected have a less.

Likelihood of getting long covid, and we're doing studies to determine if treating more people, even people who are not at risk for severe consequences, might lessen the incidence of long covid. But we've really gotta get down to what the underlying mechanisms are. If you really want to have, um, evidence-based approach to what's preventing and treat.

Gustavo: How close are we to determining long covid why it happens and why it affects some people but not others? In other words, how much of a mystery does Covid 19 still remain to you?

Dr. Fauci: Well, certainly long covid is a mystery. I mean, there are incidences with other infections of post-infection, um, symptoms, particularly prolonged fatigue and exercise intolerance. But the incidents and degree to which we're seeing it with Covid 19 is, is unique, and that's the reason why we're paying so much attention to it.

Gustavo: After the break, how prepared are we for the next pandemic?

Dr. Fauci, we've all been told that Covid 19 is not gonna be the last pandemic that we'll live through. So what actual tactical defenses or steps should the government and public health agencies be taking now to prepare for the next pandemic?

Dr. Fauci: Well, we do have a very well worked out pandemic preparedness plan that we put together some time ago. Um, the problem is we have not gotten the funding that we need to begin to implement that. I want to say that the Congress has been very generous in giving us billions and billions of dollars for what we've been able to accomplish with the vaccines and with drugs.

But now they are pulling back and stopped and have not, uh, honored our request for supplemental funding. Then it doesn't look. Given the budget hangup we have now with a continuing resolution that we're gonna get any additional money at all that we really do need if you want to prepare for the next pandemic.

Gustavo: Even though we just are still in the midst of a pandemic, there's still people who don't think that there's going to be another pandemic. So why bother spending more money to try

Dr. Fauci: No, I, I, I don't think I, I just think they feel we've spent enough on this and that's it, and they're not, Focusing on the fact that when we get this behind us, there will be the threat of another one. We don't know whether it's gonna be next year, five years from now, or 30 years from now. That's the reason why there's the reluctance to put so much money in it cause it is so unpredictable.

Gustavo: what are you looking forward to after stepping down and what, if anything, is gonna bring you.

Dr. Fauci: Well, I'm not getting out of what I'm doing, so it's not a question of bringing back. I'm not gonna come back into the federal government unless something very unusual happens. I would doubt that that's the case. So I never rule anything out. , but I'm not leaving the scene. I'm going to be doing what I'm doing about lecturing, about teaching, about writing, about hopefully serving as an example for younger individuals who are interested in going into science or who already in science and need some encouragement about pursuing their passion.

The one thing I can offer them now is I have 54 years of experience as a scientist at the nih, 38 years of experie. As the director of the institute, and I've had the pleasure and the privilege of advising seven Presidents of the United States, so I do have something to offer people in the terms of experience, and I'm going to use the venues of lecturing and writing to do that.

Gustavo: What is going to be the through line, whether you're speaking to kindergartners or scientists, what's like the one message you're gonna be emphasizing above?

Dr. Fauci: Well, I'm going to emphasize the importance of public health and the importance of medicine and science because we're having a, a, a real anti-science movement in this country. That's very disturbing, and I'd like to counter that. by emphasizing and by example, showing the importance of putting confidence in the scientific method.

Gustavo: Finally, Dr. Fauci, you are the product of a Jesuit education, both high school and college. You've spoken about how formative the Catholic Religious Orders approach to critical thinking was to your life. What's one lesson from the Jesuits that you think all Americans can learn from?

Dr. Fauci: Well, it's the je, it's the, it's the lesson, which is the motto of my high school and my college. Which is service to others, and that's what I think we need to get much more of that in society of people caring not only about themselves, but caring about others, and caring about making society better. If more people did that, I believe we'd be much better off than we are right now.

Gustavo: Which saint from the ones who founded the Jesuits do you like more? St. Francis Xavier or Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Dr. Fauci: I'd have to say St. Ignatius or Loyola because St. Francis Xavier was our big competitor in high school basketball, and since I was the captain of the basketball team, they were a good team and we were a good team and we always were playing against each other. So I'd have to go with St. Ignatius Loyola,


Gustavo: Dr. Anthony Fauci. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Dr. Fauci: My pleasure. It's good to be with you.


Gustavo Arellano: Before we go today... Some sad news. LA’s famous mountain lion, P-22, has passed away. I talked to my LA Times colleague, Laura J. Nelson, earlier this year in an episode about everything P-22. So it’s fitting that Laura gives the big cat the sendoff he deserves. 

mux in

Laura Nelson: P-22 surprised the world in 2012 when he showed up on a photograph taken in Griffith Park by a motion-sensing camera. 

mux in

The first glimpse that scientists caught of him was his fluffy hindquarters. 

To get to the park…

he had made an improbable trek of about 20 miles all the way from his birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Car sounds in

He somehow made it through the Hollywood Hills…

 and safely across the 405 and 101 freeways. 

Car sounds out 

P-22 quickly became a celebrity. 

He was introduced to the world in an LA Times story..

And then he appeared in an iconic National Geographic photo…

prowling past the Hollywood sign at night.

mux out 

One of the most unusual parts of P-22’s story is that the city rallied around him instead of demanding that he be removed. 

Scientists had thought that P-22 would eventually leave the park to find a mate and to find more space to roam.

Griffith Park is right in the middle of L.A. 

and it’s only about 6% the size of the usual territory for a local cougar.  

But instead...  

P-22 stayed in Los Feliz for more than a decade. 

Over the years…

catching a glimpse of P-22 on a nighttime prowl became one of the most coveted celebrity sightings in Los Angeles.

And people across the city fell in love with him.  

Caller voice: I think P 22 really had me at hello. 

mux in

Caller voice: You know, our boy has had some misadventures, uh, but la still loves him, and I think that's what's wonderful. 

Caller voice:  There was something about him that was so human or maybe it was something in me that connected with him. 

Caller voice: I loved his daring spirit and his piercing golden eyes.

mux beat

Caller voice: He walked so majestically amongst the humans. 

Caller voice: Perhaps one central reason for loving P 22 is that he seemed to take us away from this obsession with ourselves. And, uh, he reminded me and us who we are short of our illusions and that we must care for one another in all living beings on our beautiful planet.

Caller voice: I'm so saddened by P-22's demise. I'm just, uh, it's weird. It feels like my relative has died, you know?

Caller voice:  P22 was considered a celebrity in Los Angeles for sure. But at the same time. P22 is far more beloved than most actual celebrities in Los Angeles.

mux out

Laura Nelson:  So many of us Angelenos saw ourselves in P-22... 

He was an aging bachelor who had to adjust to a too-small space in a big city…

He had shaken off society’s expectations for him, and crossed borders and freeways in search of a home. 

And he was isolated and lonely… waiting for a mate who never arrived.

His presence in Griffith Park was also a reminder that Los Angeles is far wilder than it appears.

We have some of the highest levels of biological diversity of any big city in North America.

P-22 also became the “poster cat” for wildlife preservation. 

He was the face of a campaign called “Save L.A. Cougars,” which raised money to build a bridge for cougars and other animals across the 101 Freeway

Caller voice: I believe that P 22 as a mountain lion, uh, expressed that there is a dire need for a balance between the natural world of Los Angeles as well as the urban.

Caller voice: P 22 became a world famous spokes CATT for coexisting with urban wildlife we must honor the spectacular life of P 22 and work towards a new paradigm for wildlife,

Mux fades in 

Laura Nelson: P-22 was euthanized Saturday because of several chronic health problems and injuries from being hit by a car. 

I cried when I learned that he had died. 

Mux beat 

All the scientists and wildlife officials who cared for him — and cared about him — were crying too. 

It felt like the whole city was in mourning.

Mux beat 

P-22 was an important part of scientific research into wildlife…

but he was also a fixture in the city. 

Los Angeles had formed a bond with him and loved him fiercely. 

It hurt to know that he was in pain at the end. 

And that humans had done this to him. 

Mux beat 

Laura Nelson : I think P-22 captured our hearts because every part of his story was unlikely. 

He beat the odds. 

He somehow made it to Griffith Park. 

He stayed there for a decade. 

And L.A. embraced him as one of our own. 

Mux beat 

There are other mountain lions in L.A….

but there will never be another P-22.

Mux beat 

Caller voice: He was just a remarkable. ani… uh, mountain Lion… being. 

I greatly am saddened by his passing, but he has taught us a a lot during his time on this planet

I hope that he is prowling with all the space he needs wherever he is. 

Long live P-22.

mux out 

Gustavo: Thank you to all our listeners and readers who called in to share their memories of P-22. And thanks to Laura for her obit. RIP, my friend. 

Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of The Times Essential News from the LA Times. Kaha and Ashley Brown were the HEAs on this episode and Mike Kalan mixed and mastered it.  Our show's produced by Denise Guerra, Kaha Brion, David Toledo and Ashley Brown. Our editorial assistants are Robert Rees and Nicholas Perez. Our engineers are Mario Diaz Marto and Mike Kelan. Our editor is Kinsey Morlin. Our fellows Helen Lee. Our executive producers are Hasani Hilton and Hiba El Orban. And our theme music is by Andrew Wheatman. I'm Gustav Valo. We'll be back Monday with all the news and Des Madre.



Intro mux or cold open tape 

Gustavo: Well folks…it’s that time of year again….and no…I’m not talking about a bunch of tamales and presents. 

Sadly, COVID cases are rising again. 


Earlier this month, the CDC and other public health agencies recommended that major cities…including Los Angeles…start reaching for masks again. 


My producers and I…we had a holiday party planned for last week that ended up getting postponed  to keep everyone safe. 

And yet there is hope. 

Take it from one of America’s longest-serving public health officials, and probably THE face of the government’s strategy on COVID….Dr. Anthony Fauci.


BEAT drop 1

I’m Gustavo Arellano. You’re listening to The Times, essential news from the L.A. Times. 

It’s Friday, December 23, 2022. 

Today... just 8 days before he steps down from his role running the National Institute of Allergy and Infections…. We hear from Dr. Fauci about COVID, his career, and the future of public health. 

BEAT drop 2

Mux bump to fade out 

Gustavo: Dr. Anthony Fauci…welcome to the Times.

Fauci: Thx…

Gustavo: So in just a few days…you’ll be stepping down from your current roles…but before you do…well, I have so many questions, but the ones we gotta talk about first are, what else, COVID? 

Fauci: let’s roll

Gustavo….Pretty soon here…we’ll enter Year Four of the pandemic…how worried are you about the collective health of the nation right now? 

Fauci: worried but not too worried..people should get their boosters.

Gustavo: Long COVID, though, still hangs over each infection. I know people who suffer from it. To what extent are people at risk from these long lasting symptoms…and do you think we should maybe be taking more precautions because of that?

Fauci: long covid still a risk for everyone..don’t have a lot of info on long COVID yet…know people are tired but need to keep going.

Gustavo: There’s also just so much fatigue these days when it comes to the pandemic, and some of that comes from all the misinformation as well as confusion that has been spreading the last three years.

There’s been protests and campaigns against public health agencies, and officials like yourself. 

What do you think it’ll take for that skepticism to die down? 

Fauci: ???

Gustavo: And do you think the Biden administration is making headway in those areas? 


Mux bump 

Gustavo: Coming up after the break…we speak to Dr. Fauci about his work on HIV/AIDS.

Mux bump to fade or hard out


Gustavo: Dr. Fauci…tackling COVID is how you spent your last years in public service…but you’ve spent a lot of your career focusing on HIV/AIDS.

And both of these pandemics have been pretty polarizing. As someone who has been so deeply involved in the response to both emergencies…did you notice any patterns between the two…or even any major differences that caught you by surprise? 

Fauci: ???

Maybe skip this next one…he’s answering it now…

Gustavo: Yeah….one of the major criticisms during the height of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s was how slow the response was, not only within the Reagan administration, but also the FDA–the federal drug administration– in approving and disseminating trials, drugs, and treatments to patients. 

COVID, on the other hand…was the complete opposite. We had Operation Warp Speed, afterall. What happened in the intervening years between COVID and HIV/AIDS to change that?

Fauci: something here probably about AIDS activists. 

Nice! So good Gustavo!

Gustavo: What’s interesting to me is that…in remembering and mostly reading about that time in the late 1980s… is just how influential activists were in spurring treatments and progress against the disease. How important of a role does public activism play in public health?  


Fauci: ???

Gustavo follow up: Do you think we might see something similar today when it comes to public action? Maybe coming from those who are struggling to deal with Long COVID symptoms…


GUSTAVO: Have we gone too far? I’m thinking about anti-vaxxers and COVID….How much of the public voice is TOO much for public health?



Gustavo: After the break…Dr. Fauci’s words to live by. 

Mux bump to fade or hard out


Gustavo: Dr. Fauci...we’ve all been told that COVID-19 probably won’t be the last pandemic that we’ll live through. So what actual tactical defenses or steps should the government and public health agencies be taking now to prepare for the next pandemic? 

Fauci: creating base vaccines! Think this is a cool thing he’s mentioned here and there!

Gustavo follow up: What do you think could slow us down in taking those steps?


Gustavo: Finally Dr. Fauci… What are you looking forward to after stepping down? And… what…if anything…would bring you back? 

Gustavo: Finally Dr. Fauci…you’re the product of a Jesuit education. High school and college. You’ve spoken about how formative the Catholic religious order’s approach to critical thinking was to your life. What’s one lesson from the Jesuits that you think all Americans can learn from? 

Ahhh that’s nice


Mux bump 

Gustavo: Dr. Anthony Fauci…thank you so much for this conversation. 

Guest: Thanks so much for having me. 

Mux  bump to fade or hard out


Outro mux in

Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of The Times, essential news from the L.A. Times. 

Kasia Broussalian and Ashlea Brown were the jefas on this episode, and [audio engineer] mixed and mastered it. 

Our show is produced by Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Roberto Reyes and Nicolas Perez. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back Monday with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.