A Trump administration appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to prevent Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, from speaking about the risks that coronavirus poses to children.
Emails obtained by POLITICO show Paul Alexander — a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS’s assistant secretary for public affairs — instructing press officers and others at the National Institutes of Health about what Fauci should say during media interviews. The Trump adviser weighed in on Fauci’s planned responses to outlets including Bloomberg News, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and the science journal Cell.
Alexander’s lengthy messages, some sent as recently as this week, are couched as scientific arguments. But they often contradict mainstream science while promoting political positions taken by the Trump administration on hot-button issues ranging from the use of convalescent plasma to school reopening.
The emails add to evidence that the White House, and Trump appointees within HHS, are pushing health agencies to promote a political message instead of a scientific one.
“I continue to have an issue with kids getting tested and repeatedly and even university students in a widespread manner…and I disagree with Dr. Fauci on this. Vehemently,” Alexander wrote in one Aug. 27 email, responding to a press-office summary of what Fauci intended to tell a Bloomberg reporter.
And on Tuesday, Alexander told Fauci’s press team that the scientist should not promote mask-wearing by children during an MSNBC interview.
“Can you ensure Dr. Fauci indicates masks are for the teachers in schools. Not for children,” Alexander wrote. “There is no data, none, zero, across the entire world, that shows children especially young children, spread this virus to other children, or to adults or to their teachers. None. And if it did occur, the risk is essentially zero,” he continued — adding without evidence that children take influenza home, but not the coronavirus.
In a statement attributed to Caputo, HHS said that Fauci is an important voice during the pandemic and that Alexander specializes in analyzing the work of other scientists.
“Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists,” Caputo said. “Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers. I hired Dr. Alexander for his expertise and not to simply resonate others’ opinions.”
Neither Alexander nor NIH spokespeople responded to requests for comment.
Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has led NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for nearly four decades, told POLITICO that he had not seen the emails and his staff had not instructed him to minimize the risk coronavirus poses to children or the need for kids to wear masks.
“No one tells me what I can say and cannot say,” Fauci said. “I speak on scientific evidence.”