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Why Fauci said CPAC's reaction to vaccine news is 'horrifying'

At CPAC, attendees applauded the idea that the unvaccinated are preventing the U.S. from reaching its public-health goals. Anthony Fauci is gobsmacked.

There was no shortage of discouraging developments at the latest Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event over the weekend, but the Daily Beast highlighted one of the most upsetting.

With new variants of COVID-19 now surging in areas with low vaccination rates and right-wing media promoting vaccine hesitancy to its viewers, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas invited noted "Covid Contrarian" Alex Berenson to fearmonger about the safe and effective coronavirus vaccines. Speaking on the CPAC stage on Saturday, Berenson -- whom The Atlantic once labeled the "Pandemic's Wrongest Man" -- prompted cheers from the crowd when he boasted that "the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated, and it isn't happening."

The fact that Berenson made unfortunate comments about vaccines wasn't interesting. What mattered, however, was the crowd's reaction: the fact that many Americans are voluntarily forgoing safe, free, and effective vaccines was cause for celebration among many CPAC attendees.

A day later, Dr. Anthony Fauci sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper, who played a brief clip from CPAC and who asked the celebrated immunologist for his reaction.

"It's horrifying," Fauci said, making no effort to hide his frustration. "I mean, they are cheering about someone saying that it's a good thing for people not to try and save their lives."

The scientist, who serves as President Biden's chief medical adviser on the pandemic, "I just don't get that. I don't think that anybody who is thinking clearly can get that. What is that all about? I don't understand that, Jake."

Fauci's exasperated response was understandable. Infection rates are starting to climb a bit, reaching levels unseen since May. Hospitalization numbers are also inching higher, particularly in "red" states, where public-health systems are straining once again. Though COVID-related deaths have improved dramatically, the United States is still losing roughly 1,500 people per week -- roughly equivalent to a plane crash per day.

This is entirely preventable. A lifesaving medicine is readily available for free. In some parts of the country, folks will literally show up at your door to help you.

And yet, there was the CPAC crowd, applauding the idea that the unvaccinated are preventing the United States from reaching its public-health goals.

NBC News spoke last week to Dr. Ryan Dare at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock who noted that virtually all of hospital's COVID patients are unvaccinated -- and when they show up sick, they wish they'd gotten the shots.

"It is heart-wrenching to see unvaccinated individuals come into the hospital with regret," Dare, an infectious diseases physician, said. They are patients who, "if they could do it all over again, would have had the vaccine in a second."

We tend to think of political polarization as being detrimental to democracy and social cohesion, but this is a rare instance in which the nation's political divide is killing people unnecessarily.