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Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert who has served as the face of the response to the coronavirus pandemic for more than two years, plans after more than 50 years in administration until the end of President Biden’s term in the He confirmed Monday to the Washington Post that he was retiring.
“By the end of the Biden administration’s term, I think it’s time to step down from this position,” Fauci said.
Fauci’s decision to retire by 2025 was first reported by Politico. The 81-year-old official later hinted that his plans weren’t fully settled, telling the New York Times that he would “almost certainly” retire by 2025 and warning CNN not to consider Monday’s news as his official announcement of his resignation.
“I want to do other things in my career even though I’m at a pretty advanced age,” Fauci said on CNN, adding that he has “the energy and the passion” to continue working after federal service.
Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, joined the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as a clinical research fellow in 1968 and became the agency’s director in 1984. In that role, he has advised seven presidents through all manner of public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, the 2001 anthrax attacks, Ebola and Zika — although in recent years he has become a political lightning rod for his advice on the coronavirus. President Donald Trump publicly criticized Fauci in 2020, telling his supporters he would consider firing him, while Biden touted his decades in public service and made Fauci his top medical adviser after winning the presidency.
Biden has leaned heavily on Fauci in his response to the pandemic, which continues to spread across the country despite widespread vaccine availability. Fauci has since said that the coronavirus is here to stay, but that the United States needs to reach a lower infection threshold to get out of the pandemic phase. The BA.5 variant has become dominant in the United States and has proven particularly difficult to contain, as antibodies from vaccines and previous coronavirus infections offer limited protection against the newest Omicron subvariant.
The infectious disease expert has also begun to warn of the monkeypox outbreak, urging Americans on Saturday to “take [it] seriously” and calls for increasing efforts to depoliticize the public health field.
Fauci was shaped in many ways by the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s, which changed the focus of his career and propelled his work as director of NIAID. He has faced fierce criticism from HIV activists who have criticized the government for slowing down progression of treatments and ignoring a health crisis mostly affecting gay men.
But Fauci eventually worked with activists to push treatments and make them more widely available to patients suffering from the disease, which in its early years killed almost everyone who contracted the virus. HIV/AIDS treatments have since made it possible to live long and otherwise normal lives with the virus.
The corona pandemic presents us with a completely different challenge.
Overnight, the outbreak propelled Fauci to national and global fame, especially after he publicly contradicted Trump about possible Covid-19 treatments and the threat posed by the virus. The President and some of his associates began publicly criticizing Fauci, even calling for his dismissal near the end of Trump’s term.
After Trump sought to downplay and ignore the virus, effectively allowing it to spread unchecked before vaccines and treatments became widely available, Biden has taken a different approach and worked to implement policies to get the virus under control bring. But the Biden administration has suffered multiple defeats in federal courts and the Supreme Court. A directive that would have required companies with more than 100 employees to implement a vaccination or testing requirement was blocked by the Supreme Court, and a federal court overturned a federal mask mandate for public transportation.
Fauci’s support for Covid mitigation measures like lockdowns in early 2020 and mask and vaccination requirements has made him something of a boogeyman for Republican lawmakers who have opposed almost every effort to tackle the virus. Several Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), and Sen. Roger Marshall (Kan.), have heavily targeted Fauci, in some cases spreading misinformation about his work and even baselessly framing him responsible for the pandemic. Meanwhile, public trust in Fauci has plummeted, particularly among conservatives, according to findings from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Some notable Republicans have continued to support Fauci, with former Senator Lamar Alexander — who retired last year after serving as chair of the Senate Health Committee — calling him “one of our nation’s most respected public health officials.”
“In his testimony before the Senate Health Committee, he spoke the truth as he saw it, even when the news was harsh and unpopular,” Tennessee’s Alexander said in a statement Monday. “He’s earned the respect of senators on both sides of the aisle.”
But current GOP lawmakers, including Paul and Jordan, have promised to investigate the NIAID director if Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress during the interim periods in November. Fauci told the Post in March that he was alarmed at the possibility that Republicans could retake Congress and launch an investigation into his work.
“It’s hearings in Benghazi again,” Fauci said at the time, referring to the GOP-led investigation into Hillary Clinton’s State Department leadership during the 2012 attacks on US compounds in Libya. That long-running probe found no new evidence of a Misconduct by Clinton, but was a conservative media staple for years.
“They’re going to try to hit me in public and there’s not going to be anything,” Fauci added. “But it will stop me from doing my job the way she’s doing right now.”
Public health experts said Monday they were processing the news of Fauci’s expected departure and recognizing his work in shaping the public health space and responding to multiple outbreaks.
“Fauci is one in a generation — data-driven, experimentally rigorous, ethical, and kind,” said Ian Lipkin, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
“He’s a true man of science,” added Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research Institute, in an email, praising “his key role in bringing the HIV/AIDS pandemic under control, or highly effective COVID-19 Get vaccines in less than a year.”
Gregg Gonsalves, a Yale University epidemiologist who fought with Fauci in the early days of the HIV/AIDS outbreak — and helped lead calls for his replacement decades ago — said he’s come to appreciate Fauci as a unique figure ever since learned.
“I’ve spent my whole life criticizing and praising him in equal measure,” Gonsalves said. “But if you look at longtime officials, nobody comes close to what Tony has done for this country and for public health.”