Top US virologist Anthony Fauci criticised the commentators in the country who are against the COVID-19 vaccine, saying that America might still be battling smallpox and polio if this kind of misinformation existed during that period.

The comments from the country’s leading infectious disease expert came as the US saw a sharp slowdown in the COVID-19 vaccination rate, even as the infection rates are surging in states with low rates of vaccination.

It also came a day after President Joe Biden said that social media that carry widely heard misinformation about vaccines are “killing people.”

In an interview with CNN, Fauci was 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.”

“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,” Fauci responded.

The vaccines have been extraordinarily effective according to many experts. Officials in the state of Maryland 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.

According to Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, door-to-door educators might instead come and take people’s guns — or their Bibles.

Biden’s announced goal of having 70% 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.”

“Taking an individual who stands for public health, for the truth, and to use my name in a derogatory way to prevent people from doing things that are for the benefit of their own health, go figure that one out. That doesn’t make any sense at all,” Fauci said.