dr. Anthony Fauci will leave in December as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, Fauci announced Monday.
“As I leave my current positions, I am not retiring,” Fauci said in a statement. “After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to continue the next phase of my career while still having so much energy and passion for my field.”
Fauci, 81, did not specify what that next phase would include. He had previously said he plans to step down by the end of Biden’s term in January 2025.
“I want to use what I learned as a NIAID director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and guide the next generation of scientific leaders as they help the world prepare for future infectious disease threats,” said Fauci Monday.
Fauci, who began his career at NIAID in 1968, has headed the institute since 1984. He continued to serve in that role in President Donald Trump’s administration, but he seemed to get through the era with gritted teeth.
Trump’s response to the pandemic during his presidency has included spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and trying to downplay its effects. Fauci found himself having to argue that flu is not as deadly as Covid-19 and that the death toll from the pandemic in the US was not exaggerated.
Days before Election Day 2020, Trump suggested he would consider firing Fauci if reelected. One of the former president’s qualms, he said, was that Fauci was wrong about facets of Covid-19.
As the pandemic developed in the US, scientists’ knowledge of the new virus also increased. Contrary to their initial belief, researchers found that it was unlikely to contract the virus through doorknobs and surfaces. Fauci’s advice followed the latest science, but Trump saw that as a display of error — a critique that could describe the president’s own pandemic expertise.
Speaking Monday night on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Fauci suggested that the culture of doubt screwed up by Trump has tainted American health as conspiracy theories thrive and even now the postwar scourge of polio, which has been beaten back by vaccines for seven decades. , has started again. originated in New York State.
“What we’re dealing with now is just a distortion of reality,” he said. “A world where falsehoods are almost normalized — I mean, that’s the environment we live in.”
He said unless Americans come to grips with the truth, lies and conspiracy theories will only work to hinder “a proper response to a public health challenge.”
Fauci said he was confident that a benevolent American spirit would endure and that the nation would eventually be able to “bring the good out of people.”
He told Maddow that he planned to leave his position at the end of Trump’s term, but Biden quickly asked him to stay and become his chief medical adviser. He said he thought the job would take a year, but then the pandemic continued.
Now is a good time to plan for his departure, Fauci said, as “some things are starting to stabilize a little bit.”
He has been Biden’s chief medical adviser since January 2021.
In a statement, Biden described Fauci as “a committed public servant and a steady hand of wisdom and insight honed over decades at the forefront of some of our most dangerous and challenging public health crises.”
Fauci has advised seven presidents on HIV/AIDS for four decades and has led the U.S. response to many public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and Covid-19.
In 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role in drafting the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. At the end of 2020, the program had 20 million lives saved worldwide by expanding access to HIV care and treatment, the State Department said.
Biden said one of his first calls as president-elect was to ask Fauci to lead his administration’s Covid-19 response.
“In that role, I’ve been able to call him for his advice at any hour of the day as we’ve dealt with this once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Biden said. “His dedication to the work is unwavering and he does it with unparalleled spirit, energy and scientific integrity.”
Fauci said Monday that he plans to put his “full effort, passion and dedication” into his current role in the coming months and will help prepare the NIAID for new leadership.
“NIH is served by some of the most talented scientists in the world, and I have no doubt that I am leaving this work in very capable hands,” he said.
Dennis Romero contributed.