White House officials lavished praise onto Dr. Anthony Fauci during his final appearance at the podium in the White House briefing room Tuesday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre lauded Fauci’s work to provide “information and facts” to the American people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics, however, have accused him of repeated flip-flops on the effectiveness of vaccines, masks, and social distancing.
“As you all know, Dr. Fauci is retiring next month, and I am honored–so honored–to have him join me today one more time, one last time at the podium,” Jean-Pierre gushed. “For so many Americans throughout our fight with COVID, Dr. Fauci has been a source of information and facts.”
“But Dr. Fauci’s leadership and legacy stretch far beyond the past couple of years, whether it be HIV/AIDS, Ebola or COVID-19,” she continued. “For close to four decades, and under seven Republican and Democratic presidents, Dr. Fauci has always led with the science, and our country is stronger and healthier because of his leadership.”
“It’s really a great pleasure to be back here with you again, albeit I believe for the last time,” Fauci said before once again urging Americans to get vaccinated.
“Every day for all those years I’ve given it all that I have, and I’ve never left anything on the field,” he continued. “I gave it all I got.”
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha offered high praise to the doctor as well, calling him “the most important, consequential public servant in the United States in the last half century,” adding that he is “a role model for so many.”
“Tony, thank you,” Jha added.
Fauci’s leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic stirred up controversy over masking policies, school closures, and lockdowns. He has repeatedly dismissed critics and has rejected claims that he acted in a political manner.
A Department of Education study released in September found that average reading scores for 9-year-olds fell five points and average math scores fell seven points following the pandemic, compared to scores in 2020. The decline in reading scores was the largest drop in over three decades, while the decline in math scores was the first on record.
High schoolers are increasingly unprepared for college. Average scores on the ACT college admissions test by the class of 2022 were 19.8 out of 36, the lowest score since 1991.
Fauci argued during the pandemic that the ideal scenario was to keep students in schools, but said conditions would more than likely force schools to shut their doors. Administrators “may want to pause before they start sending the kids back to school for a variety of reasons,” Fauci said in August 2020.
Responding to a question on Tuesday about changing messages from the White House during the pandemic, Fauci blamed the uncertainty of the pandemic’s early days, and how he and others were basing their statements on changing information.
Paul Best contributed to this report.