Trump’s new coronavirus adviser hit back at Fauci and other scientists who doubt his anti-lockdown advice: ‘I’m here because the country’s off the rails’

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A composite image of Dr. Scott Atlas and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Getty/Getty
  • President Donald Trump hired Dr. Scott Atlas to join the White House coronavirus task force in August, after months of Atlas appearing on Fox News and speaking out against lockdowns.
  • Atlas’ hiring caused a stir in the scientific community, with members questioning his qualifications to advise the president since his background is in health policy and neuroradiology, not infectious diseases.
  • In a Monday interview with Business Insider, Atlas defended his medical background and called out his critics, who include Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield.
  • “I think a lot of the criticism stems from people who are either politically motivated or are interested in maintaining their own stature in the public eye,” Atlas said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The addition of Dr. Scott Atlas, a health-policy expert who spent months speaking out against lockdowns and advocating the full reopening of schools, to the White House coronavirus task force in August prompted outrage in the medical community.

Last month, Bill Gates suggested Atlas was hired only because he “agrees” with what Gates described as the White House’s “crackpot COVID theories.” A group of more than 100 of Atlas’ former colleagues at Stanford Medical School also signed a letter warning that many of his “opinions and statements run counter to established science.”

In an interview with Business Insider on Monday, Atlas hit back at the critics who had questioned his opinions and his qualifications to advise the president.

“I think a lot of the criticism stems from people who are either politically motivated or are interested in maintaining their own stature in the public eye,” Atlas said.

Some of the questions about Atlas have focused on his medical background. When Atlas was hired, Forbes reported that his background wasn’t in infectious diseases but in neuroradiology.

In recent years, however, Atlas has transitioned to a career in health policy. He works as a senior fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution and has advised politicians including Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani on heath policy.

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Atlas speaking alongside President Donald Trump at a White House coronavirus briefing on August 12. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

“Somehow the charge that I am not an epidemiologist or I’m not a virologist, or I’m not a public-health official, has been repeated, and it’s ridiculous,” Atlas told Business Insider.

“I’m not here to be an epidemiologist. I’m here because I can translate complicated medical science … in a way that is plain English and understandable by the public and by the White House.”

Since joining the coronavirus task force, Atlas has been the target of negative comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious-disease official on the task force, as well as Robert Redfield, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

An NBC News reporter recently overheard Redfield saying “everything” Atlas said “is false,” while Fauci told CNN’s Brian Stelter last week that he worried about Atlas passing misleading information to the president.

Atlas had choice words to say about both men.

“People on the task force have their own opinions about things, and that’s fine. But I can tell you that when the head of the CDC says if everyone wore a mask, we’d beat the virus in a month … or if I had a mask, I don’t need a vaccine. These statements are way off base and absurd and harmful to the public,” he said.

“Or when Dr. Fauci said everyone should wear goggles. Or when Dr. Fauci ridiculed Sen. [Rand] Paul for saying that other people have some protective immunity from things beyond simply what you see on an antibody test. To ridicule that statement shows a complete lack of understanding and a lack of the current scientific research,” he said of Fauci.

Atlas also said Fauci was using “media contacts to make public criticisms of other people out of insecurity.”

Business Insider contacted representatives of both Fauci and Redfield for comment on Tuesday but did not immediately receive a response.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci and Trump at a White House coronavirus briefing on March 24. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the Monday interview, Atlas said he knew that as soon as he agreed to work with the president he would be “immediately vilified” and people would seek to “delegitimize” him.

But he argued that his experience and understanding of how health policy affected the country would help the task force.

“I’m here because the country’s off the rails,” he said. “I’m not here for any political reason — I’m here because people are dying from the wrong policies, pursued mainly at the state levels with these prolonged lockdowns, and we really need to stop that.”

Numerous states reopened businesses in late May and early June, though some have moved to reverse or pause those plans upon seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.

Atlas said one misconception about him was that he was advocating policy meant to achieve herd immunity, which occurs when enough of a population is immune to a disease that its transmission wanes. As The Washington Post recently illustrated, pursuing herd immunity without a vaccine could result in millions of American deaths.

“I have never advocated a herd-immunity strategy. That was a lie from the get-go,” Atlas said, adding: “That was never advocated to the president or anyone else. But to deny herd immunity exists is to deny gravity. That is what I would call today’s flat-earth movement.”