Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leader of the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has told Politico in a newly published interview that he plans to retire at the end of the current U.S. president’s term.
It was Fauci’s most explicit statement yet about his future, who last month told reporters he planned to “retire before I die.”
Fauci, 81, has been a U.S. government employee for 55 years and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984. As a result, he has worked under several Democratic and Republican administrations.
He has became the face of the U.S. government’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, serving on the White House coronavirus task force led by Dr. Deborah Birx under former President Donald Trump, and now in Joe Biden’s administration.
Trump praised Fauci in the early weeks of the pandemic, even tweeting about the health official’s approval rating in June 2020. But by late summer and autumn, the Trump administration stopped holding regular COVID-19 briefings and Trump was often downplaying the coronavirus and publicly criticizing Fauci’s safety-first messaging.
Medal of Freedom recipient
Birx recently described the struggles of communicating public health advice for a novel coronavirus during those months in her book, Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late.
“Tony and I had become the avatars for science,” Birx wrote. “Both for the White House and for those in the public who disagreed with [shutdowns]. Science became the enemy, data-driven debates dissolved into threats and expressions of hatred.”
Fauci, in an interview with CBC News in December 2021, lamented the fact that the pandemic had become an issue that couldn’t transcend partisan politics, as jurisdictions and states led by Democrats typically have higher vaccination rates than those led by Republicans.
“Many of the people who are hesitant to get vaccinated are doing it really on ideological grounds,” he said, “which as a public health person, doesn’t make any sense at all to me.”
Called to testify in Congress multiple times during the course of the pandemic, Fauci has frequently been a target for Republican lawmakers over perceived failings in the U.S. public health response. As well, he’s been questioned on previous collaborations between American and Chinese scientists.
Fauci became head of NIAID in 1984, when the nation was in the throes of the AIDS crisis. He has recalled the frustration of caring for dying patients with no available treatment options in the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) hospital during those early years of the crisis.
In 1990, when AIDS activists swarmed the NIH to protest what they saw as government indifference, Fauci brought them to the table. Those efforts helped lead to an unlikely friendship with author and activist Larry Kramer, who had been vociferous in his criticism of the response to the epidemic by the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
In 2008, Fauci was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then president George W. Bush.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NIAID had laid the groundwork for the development of mRNA vaccines, in a public-private collaboration with Moderna Inc., which built off lessons learned from the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).