Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease official, will step down from heading the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in December, he said in a statement released on Aug. 22. Fauci, 81, said he would also leave his role as chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.
But Fauci, who has served as NIAID director since 1984—under seven presidents—said he is not retiring. “I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field,” he said.
Fauci first made his mark on public health through his work fighting HIV/AIDS. He has turned down several offers to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH), explaining each time his desire to remain at NIAID—which is part of the NIH—until he felt more progress had been made in conquering HIV/AIDS. During his time at NIAID, HIV has changed from a death sentence into a chronic disease, thanks in part to his efforts in collaborating with AIDS activists and charting new paths for testing and approving anti-HIV drugs. Fauci was also instrumental in ensuring that HIV therapies reached underserved parts of the world that needed the drugs most by contributing to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) under President George Bush.
The drug pathways he pioneered for HIV helped to speed up trials of new COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral therapies during the pandemic. But Fauci has also faced politically motivated ire for his work. President Donald Trump—who actively undermined the scientific process, attacked Fauci’s expertise and character, and flirted with firing him at the behest of his supporters—made him a target within months of the pandemic starting in 2020. Since then, Fauci has endured death threats against him and his family and has used something he never had before: personal security. Yet Fauci endured, saying he never thought of leaving his role advising the government on COVID-19. For a public-facing infectious disease expert who’s devoted his life to public health, “if there is one challenge in your life you cannot walk away from, it is that most impactful pandemic in the last 102 years,” he told TIME in 2021.
In a statement, Biden highlighted Fauci’s dedication and breadth of knowledge of infectious diseases. “I’ve been able to call him at any hour of the day for his advice as we’ve tackled this once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Biden said. “The United States of America is stronger, more resilient, and healthier because of him.”
Fauci didn’t specify how he would continue his work in public health, but said he’s focused on the nation’s future. “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,” he said.
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Contributor: Alice Park