Chip Somodevilla/Getty; STR/NurPhoto via Getty Dr. Anthony Fauci (left), Ron Johnson
Dr. Anthony Fauci hit back at Republican Ron Johnson's claims that he had "overhyped" both AIDs and the COVID-19 pandemic, telling CNN's State of the Union on Sunday: "I don't have any clue of what he's talking about."
Johnson, a 66-year-old Wisconsin senator with no background in science or medicine, made the remarks last week, telling Fox News's Brian Kilmeade that the nation's leading infectious disease expert is using "the exact same playbook" with COVID as he used when he lead research into treatments for HIV/AIDS.
"By the way, Fauci did the same exact thing with AIDS. He overhyped it. He created all kinds of fear, saying it could infect the entire population when it couldn't, and he's doing, he's using the exact same playbook with COVID: ignoring therapy, pushing a vaccine," Johnson said on Fox News, in an appearance that coincided with World AIDS Day.
Fauci has not, as Johnson suggested, ignored therapies to treat COVID-19 and has in fact urged hospitals to use more antibody treatments, like those used to treat former President Donald Trump, who was hospitalized with the virus in 2020.
"You know Jake, how do you respond to something as preposterous as that?" Fauci, 80, said on CNN, when asked by Jake Tapper to comment on Johnson's remarks.
Fauci continued: "Overhyping AIDS? It's killed over 750,000 Americans and 36 million people worldwide. How do you overhype that? Overhyping COVID? It's already killed 780,000 Americans and over 5 million people worldwide."
Fauci, who is the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, was instrumental in the American medical community's research into how to treat HIV/AIDS. Despite that research and unlike COVID-19, there is currently no vaccine for HIV.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Fauci was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation's highest civilian award — by former President George W. Bush in 2008 for his work in researching HIV/AIDS
"For his determined and aggressive efforts to help others live longer and healthier lives, I'm proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci," Bush said at the time.
Johnson isn't the only Republican to criticize Fauci.
The health official previously had testy exchanges with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, with the two arguing over the push to reopen schools, whether it was safe to relax restrictions on businesses, and why it's necessary for people to be wearing masks after they get vaccinated.
Speaking on Face the Nation last month, Fauci said his critics are trying to use him as a scapegoat in an attempt to discredit the science behind things like mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccines.