Fauci hopes Trump will tell supporters to get COVID-19 vaccine

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said on Sunday he hopes former President Donald Trump will urge his supporters to get the COVID-19 vaccine and emphasized that pandemic-related restrictions should not be lifted prematurely.

In a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll released last week, about half of U.S. men who identified themselves as Republicans said they had no plans to get the vaccine.

Asked whether Trump should speak to his supporters directly, given those poll numbers, Fauci said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program: "I hope he does because the numbers that you gave are so disturbing."

"How such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not want to get vaccinated merely because of political considerations ... it makes absolutely no sense," Fauci said.

The other living former U.S. presidents - Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter - are set to appear in two public service announcements for the coronavirus vaccine alongside their wives, without Trump.

Getting the vaccine is "no brainer," said Fauci, who listed some of the diseases that vaccines had wiped out such as small pox. "What is the problem here? This is a vaccine that is going to be lifesaving for millions of people," Fauci said.

Fauci is the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an adviser to President Joe Biden.

Trump early in the pandemic appeared at coronavirus briefings with Fauci but later turned on him. Trump in October, weeks after being hospitalized for three days for COVID-19 treatment, criticized Fauci, saying, "Fauci is a disaster. ... People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots."

As president, Trump minimized the need for coronavirus restrictions including wearing masks and predicted the pathogen would disappear "like a miracle."

Fauci on Sunday underscored his call for officials around the United States not to lift restrictions prematurely and risk a spike in COVID-19 cases. Some states such as Texas have lifted mask-wearing and other restrictions.

An uptick in cases can be avoided if Americans continue to get vaccinated "without all of a sudden pulling back on public health measures," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"We will gradually be able to pull them (restrictions) back. And if things go as we planned, just as the president said, by the time we get into the early summer, the Fourth of July weekend, we really will have a considerable degree of normality. But we don't want to let that escape from our grasp by being too precipitous in pulling back," Fauci added.

(Reporting by Heather Timmons; Additional reporting by David Morgan and David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)