Science

He battled AIDS, COVID-19, and Trump. Now, Anthony Fauci is stepping down

Anthony Fauci, the renowned physician-scientist who has led the $6.3 billion National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) for nearly 4 decades and since early 2020 has been the U.S. government’s voice of scientific reason during the COVID-19 pandemic, will step down from government service in December.

Fauci, 81, had said in recent interviews that he planned to retire from the government by the end of President Joe Biden’s administration, but did not give a date until today. He said in a statement that although leading NIAID “has been the honor of a lifetime,” he plans to “pursue the next chapter of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field.” He is also resigning as chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation and as chief medical adviser to Biden.

Fauci has been at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than a half-century and has led NIAID for 38 years under seven presidents starting with Ronald Reagan. Brooklyn-raised, straight-talking, and tireless, he first became widely known in the late 1980s during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. After clashing with activists frustrated with the slow search for treatments, he later became a respected ally.

A physician and immunologist, Fauci led NIAID through the 2001 anthrax attacks and the expansion of biodefense research that followed; the 2009 swine influenza pandemic; and outbreaks of West Nile, Ebola, and Zika viruses. He juggled his demanding job with treating patients, including some with Ebola.

As a member of former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci became an icon in the United States and worldwide, appearing on T-shirts and as a bobblehead. In an interview with Science, he explained that he dealt with Trump’s periodic public misstatements regarding the pandemic by pushing for corrections afterward. “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down,” he said.

A few months later, he explained that “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to undermine the president. But there is something that’s called reality.”

Fauci, who helped lead U.S. government efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, also clashed with Republican lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul (KY) over pandemic public health measures as well as their assertions, backed by no evidence, that the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China. The lawmakers assailed not just China, but also NIH, NIAID’s parent agency, for funding researchers who collaborated with the Chinese laboratory. Some Republicans critical of Fauci have said they plan to investigate his role in the U.S. pandemic response if they win control of the Senate or House of Representatives in the November elections.

Biden, who named Fauci his chief medical adviser on his first day as president, lauded his “unwavering” commitment to his work and “unparalleled spirit, energy, and scientific integrity.”

Fauci told The Washington Post that his plans include writing a book and teaching. In his statement, he said: “I want to use what I have learned as NIAID Director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders as they help prepare the world to face future infectious disease threats.”

NIH will launch a search for his successor as head of NIAID.

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