Dr. Fauci Wins $1 Million Israeli Prize for 'Defending Science' amid COVID Pandemic

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been awarded the $1 million Dan David Prize for "defending science" and advocating for vaccine administration to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The annual Israeli award, associated with Tel Aviv University, was given to Fauci — the United States' director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — on Monday. Six other researchers shared two additional $1 million prizes for their contributions towards health and medicine.

In a statement, the Dan David Foundation praised Fauci, 80, for "courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis."

"As the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled, [Fauci] leveraged his considerable communication skills to address people gripped by fear and anxiety and worked relentlessly to inform individuals in the United States and elsewhere about the public health measures essential for containing the pandemic's spread," the foundation said, applauding Fauci for "speaking truth to power in a highly charged political environment."

The foundation made no mention of former president Donald Trump, who sparred with Fauci and downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic since its onset last year.

Fauci has served under seven presidents as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Some of his previous work includes helping develop treatment for HIV and launching the Pesident's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief under the George W. Bush administration in 2003.

Appearing as one of PEOPLE's People of the Year last year, Fauci said that it was difficult when he suddenly found himself at the center of handling the COVID-19 pandemic — which he described as one of "the most difficult and devastating infectious disease and respiratory outbreaks that we've experienced in the last 102 years."

"You have a devastating public health challenge in the midst of a very divisive society, in a very hotly-contested political year. You put all of those ingredients together and it's been quite challenging," Fauci told PEOPLE.

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Fauci also spoke about being thrust into the spotlight as a pop culture icon: he's been spoofed on Saturday Night Live and has appeared on everything from socks to masks and even the nation's top-selling bobblehead.

"It's surrealistic and, in some respects, nice and amusing," said Fauci. "But you can't take that stuff seriously and start to think you're a celebrity. When you start to think that, then you get into trouble. I'm a physician. I'm a scientist. And I'm a public health official."

While Fauci struggled to see eye-to-eye with Trump, 74, since the pandemic began, things have changed for the health expert since he's begun working under President Joe Biden's administration.

He even called Biden's leadership "liberating" when he resumed his place at White House coronavirus briefings last month.

"One of the new things in this administration is, if you don't know the answer, don't guess. Just say you don't know the answer," he said, adding later that a crucial importance will be placed on making "everything we do be based on science and evidence."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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