After a decades-long career fighting the various epidemics that have rocked his country and the world, the eminent Dr Anthony Fauci, now President Joe Biden’s top adviser on COVID-19, announced Monday that he will step down in December at age 81.
The immunologist will also step down on that date from his position as director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which he has held for 38 years. However, he made it clear that he was not yet “retiring”.
“I plan to continue the next phase of my career with all the energy and passion I have left for my field,” he said in a statement.
Highly respected by many, but also deeply disliked by a conservative segment of the population, he had become the face of the pandemic fight in the United States over the past two years.
His announcement comes at a time when COVID-19 has largely faded from American life – although tens of thousands of new cases continue to be reported every day.
President Joe Biden immediately extended “his deepest thanks” to Dr Fauci. “The United States is stronger, more resilient and healthier because of him,” he praised in a statement.
“His commitment to his work is unwavering, and he does it with unparalleled spirit, energy and scientific integrity,” Biden added.
In 2020, this physician by training – already famous in the world of infectious diseases and AIDS control, but then still little known to the general public – was thrust into the limelight by joining Donald Trump’s presidential coronavirus cell. With his gravelly New York accent, Mr. Fauci became a master at politely reframing his boss, cultivating his image as a straight-talking man.
His simple messages, tirelessly repeated during countless daily interventions in the media, made him the reassuring figure that America needed. His face became an emblem, adorning socks and T-shirts, and cocktails with his name were sold in bars.
“I will always be grateful that we had a public health leader like one in a generation to guide us through a pandemic like one in a century,” former President Barack Obama tweeted Monday.
But while Anthony Fauci had always been careful to stay out of politics, he has gradually become the bête noire of conservatives and the favorite target of anti-vaccine and mask opponents, in a context of very strong politicization of the health crisis in the United States.
“The Dr Fauci lost the trust of the American people when his councils needlessly kept schools and businesses closed,” House Conservative Leader Kevin McCarthy reacted Monday.
At a U.S. Senate hearing, Fauci accused another Republican of encouraging those making death threats against him. He is now forced to live under heavy security.
The “Honor” of a Lifetime
The son of a pharmacist, Anthony Fauci served under seven different U.S. presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan.
“It has been the honor of my life to lead NIAID,” he wrote Monday, listing the crises he’s been through: the AIDS epidemic, anthrax attacks, Ebola, Zika…
Under Republican President George W. Bush, Anthony Fauci was the architect of the Pepfar program, which saved the lives of millions of people with HIV. He was decorated in 2008 for his efforts against AIDS.
“Through the power of science and investments in research and innovation, the world has been able to fight deadly diseases,” Anthony Fauci wrote. “I am proud to have been a part of this important work and look forward to helping continue to do so in the future.”