Top US scientist Anthony Fauci on Saturday blasted commentators who sound an anti-vaccination theme, saying America might still be battling smallpox and polio if today's kind of misinformation existed back then.
The comments from the country's leading infectious disease expert reflected mounting frustration over the sharp slowdown in the Covid-19 vaccination rate in the United States, even as the disease has been surging in states with low rates.
It also came days after President Joe Biden expressed his own visible frustration, saying social media that carry widely heard misinformation about vaccines are "killing people."
Fauci was responding to a CNN interviewer who asked if he thought "we could have defeated the measles or eradicated polio if you had Fox News, night after night, warning people about these vaccine issues that are just bunk."
Fauci said: "We probably would still have smallpox and we probably would still have polio ... if we had the kind of false information that's being spread."
Initial vaccine skepticism in many areas has increasingly evolved into outright hostility, a message magnified by baseless conspiracy theories regularly aired on Fox and other conservative networks.
"Maybe it doesn't work and they're simply not telling you that," Tucker Carlson, one of Fox's most popular commentators, said recently.
The vaccines have instead proved extraordinarily effective. Officials in Maryland, for example, said that not one of the people who died of the disease last month in the state had been vaccinated.
To suggestions of sending vaccine educators door-to-door to encourage people to get the jab, Fox commentator Charlie Hurt said, "They've become like the Taliban."
Conservative politicians have increasingly echoed former president Donald Trump's mockery of Covid precautions.
Door-to-door educators, suggested Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, might instead come and take people's guns -- or their Bibles.
After an initial burst of vaccinations around the country, the pace has slowed sharply.
Biden's announced goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July 4 fell short by about three points, and the vaccination rate has slowed further since then, even as the disease's Delta variant has spread rapidly.
A few Republicans have sought to place blame for the disease's ravages and economic dislocations on the widely respected Fauci himself.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has introduced the so-called Fire Fauci Act, calling for his salary to be reduced to zero and requiring the Senate to confirm a replacement. The bill is not expected to go anywhere.
Fauci was asked on CNN about T-shirts being sold by a political action group linked to Florida governor Ron DeSantis that say "Don't Fauci My Florida."
He appeared genuinely perplexed.
"Taking an individual who stands for public health, for truth... and to use my name in a derogatory way to prevent people from doing things that's for the benefit of their own health, go figure that one out.
"That doesn't make any sense at all," he said, shaking his head.