Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, blasted “radical fringe groups” for “conspiracy theories” in his keynote speech to students graduating from a college in New York City on Friday.
“It is blatantly obvious that we are experiencing a deepening divisiveness in our nation, fed by a flagrant devaluation of the truth,” Fauci said during his commencement speech at the City College of New York.
Fauci said that “genuine differences of opinion or ideology are part of a healthy society” but that “outlandish statements and pronouncements” are increasing.
“Fabrications, conspiracy theories, and outright lies are becoming commonplace from radical fringe groups as well as from people who you would hope would know better – and you know who they are,” Fauci said.
“Yet segments of our society have grown increasingly inured by such falsehoods while the outrage and dissent against this alarming trend have been relatively muted and when voiced are regularly castigated.”
Fauci, who also serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has played a key role in the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic during Biden’s administration and that of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
The top doctor has been targeted by Trump and his supporters for his endorsement of lockdowns and other restrictions amid the pandemic, and has fought back against claims that the virus was created in a lab in Wuhan, China, where it emerged.
He has also warned against the use of the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin to treat COVID-19, touted by supporters of the former president.
It was not immediately clear if Fauci’s comments were a critique of such health-related conspiracy theories or a broader criticism of Trump-era conspiracy theories such as concerns over widespread voter fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
Regardless, students who spoke to the New York Post after the graduation event understood Fauci’s comments to be targeted at Trump supporters.
“I love the fact that everyone knew who he was talking about,” Maliha Khan, who received a bachelor’s degree in international studies and economics, told the outlet.
The top doctor, who was raised in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn and completed his medical internship and residency training at what is now Weill Cornell in Manhattan, was also awarded an honorary degree before his speech.
“We cannot escape the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly upended your college experience,” Fauci told the students.
“Your very presence here today at graduation is testimony to your extraordinary resilience, resolve, and character that enabled you to complete your studies and to graduate amid immense difficulties and uncertainties.”
Fauci said that graduating students “faced one of the most traumatic public health crises in human history” and that he held them in “the highest esteem” for their passion and perseverance “to find a way through the hardships posed by this pandemic.”
“This has been your experience now for nearly two and a half years. Let us now look forward and reflect briefly on a few of the issues now challenging our society that you will be confronted with, some of these accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fauci said.
Fauci also used the speech to address socioeconomic health challenges faced during the pandemic and called for an increase in diversity in public service to address such issues.
“There is a need in our country for a better reflection of our racial, ethnic and cultural diversity among leaders in public health including in my own field of science and medicine,” Fauci said.
“But regardless of your chosen career path, there are pressing societal issues that exist that none of us as individuals should ignore. In many parts of our country, communities are undermined by poverty, violence, drug addiction, inadequate health care, discrimination, and despair.”
Fauci also briefly railed against the “reappearing specter of genocide most recently manifested by the immoral and deplorable invasion of Ukraine by Russia” while commenting on global challenges such as endemic disease, poverty, starvation, infant mortality, refugee populations, and violence against women.
“Standing up for social justice and contributing to the social good and bettering someone else’s life by doing so can be incorporated into your own lives regardless of whether you do this as a professional career,” Fauci said.
“We cannot escape the spotlight that COVID has shown on one of the great failings in our society, the lack of health equity.”
He also noted that minority groups suffer high risks for COVID-19 because of underlying conditions that are caused by societal conditions including lack of access to health care and “obstacles and prejudice experienced because of the undeniable racism that persists in our society.”
“Mere weeks in the pandemic, this was glaringly obvious to me. Over the course of the pandemic, longstanding disparities that undermined the health of racial and ethnic minorities have been starkly exposed,” Fauci said.
“Many people in minority groups work in front line jobs that do not allow employees to socially isolate or to work from home, so each day essential workers face a tough choice: to put their lives and that of their loved ones at increased risk of COVID-19 by going to these high-risk jobs or to put their livelihoods at increased risk if they chose not to.”