Dr Anthony Fauci has said he was the “skunk at the picnic” in Donald Trump’s White House Covid-19 taskforce.
But the public health expert, 80, said he had never considered resigning from despite repeated clashes with the former president.
The comments to the New York Times came as the US exceeded more than 25 million cases of the coronavirus, and closed in on 420,000 Covid-related deaths.
The US has fallen far short of the target set by the Trump administration, to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020 and by December 31, fewer than three million had received one.
As of 20 January, the day Mr Biden became president, about 16.5 million vaccines had been administered in the US, according to official statistics.
Dr Fauci who is now working as a chief scientific adviser to Joe Biden, said some people had assumed that he was “complicit in the distortions emanating from the stage” at Covid briefings early in the pandemic.
He added that although he clashed with the president often he never considered resigning.
Trump criticised Dr Fauci, who has served every president since 1984, publicly and gave the impression he would have him fired but never took the necessary action to make this happen.
“I felt that if I stepped down,” he said, “that would leave a void. Someone’s got to not be afraid to speak out the truth. [White House staff] would try to play down real problems and have a little happy talk about how things are OK. And I would always say, ‘Wait a minute, hold it, folks, this is serious business.’ So there was a joke – a friendly joke, you know – that I was the skunk at the picnic.”
The 80-year-old has previously discussed getting death threats because of his differences with Trump on subjects including unproven treatments including bleach, ultraviolet light and the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, all pushed by Trump as the death toll mounted.
“You know,” he said, “my whole life professionally has been fighting pandemics … This is what I do.
“I think what I bring to the table is something that’s very much value-added. I want to keep doing it until I see us crushing this outbreak, so that people can get back to normality. And even after then, there’s still HIV, to which I’ve devoted the overwhelming proportion of my professional life.”
When asked if he thought Trump cost the live of thousands of American lives, he said: “I can’t comment on that,” he said. “People always ask that and … making the direct connection that way, it becomes very damning. I just want to stay away from that. Sorry.”
Dr Deborah Birx, an army physician known for her Aids work and worked as Trump’s taskforce coordinator, also spoke to the Times over the weekend about why she did not quit a White House containing “people who definitely believed [Covid] was a hoax”.