Dr. Anthony Fauci will step down as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser in December, Fauci announced Monday.
“While I am moving on from my current positions, I am not retiring,” Fauci said in a statement. “After more than 50 years in government, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while still having as much energy and passion for my field.”
Fauci, 81, did not specify what that next phase would involve. He had previously said he planned to step down from government office by the end of Biden’s term in January 2025.
“I want to use what I learned as Director of NIAID to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and guide the next generation of scientific leaders as they help the world address future infectious disease threats,” Fauci said.
Fauci, who began his career at NIAID in 1968, has led the institute since 1984. He continued in that role in President Donald Trump’s administration, but seemed to weather the era with gritted teeth.
Trump’s response to the pandemic during his presidency has included spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and attempting to downplay its effects. Fauci was forced to claim that the flu is not as deadly as Covid-19 and that the pandemic’s death toll in the US was not exaggerated.
Days before Election Day 2020, Trump suggested he would consider firing Fauci if re-elected. One of the former president’s misgivings, he said, was that Fauci was proven wrong about aspects of Covid-19.
As the pandemic evolved in the US, so did scientists’ knowledge of the new virus. The researchers learned, contrary to their initial belief, that contamination of the virus from the knobs and surfaces was unlikely. Fauci’s advice followed the latest science, but Trump saw it as a display of error — a criticism that could describe the president’s own expertise in the pandemic.
Fauci, speaking Monday night on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” suggested that Trump’s culture of doubt has affected American health as conspiracy theories thrive and even as the postwar scourge of polio, which was defeated for seven decades since the vaccines, it has re-emerged in New York state.
“What we’re dealing with now is just a distortion of reality,” he said. “A world where untruths are almost normalized – I mean, that’s the environment we live in.”
He said that if Americans don’t get the truth, lies and conspiracy theories will only work to prevent “a proper response to a public health challenge.”
Fauci said he had faith 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 step down at the end of Trump’s term, but that Biden was quick to ask him to stay on and be his chief medical adviser. He said he thought the job would last a year, but then the pandemic got stuck.
Now is a good time to plan his exit, Fauci said, because “some things look like they’re 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 dedicated public servant and a steady hand of wisdom and insight honed for decades on the front lines of some of our most dangerous and challenging public health crises.”
Fauci has advised seven presidents on HIV/AIDS over four decades and helped lead the US response to many public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and Covid-19.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 for his role in establishing the President’s Emergency for AIDS Relief. By the end of 2020, the program had saved 20 million lives worldwide by expanding access to HIV care and treatment, according to the State Department.
Biden said one of his first calls as president-elect was to ask Fauci to help lead his administration’s response to Covid-19.
“In that role, I was able to call him any time of the day for his advice as we dealt with this once-in-a-generation pandemic,” Biden said. “His commitment 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 commitment” into his current role in the coming months and will help prepare 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.