Dr. Anthony Fauci — a lightning rod for controversy and support during the coronavirus pandemic — will step down from his longtime position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden in December.
Fauci, 81, has previously said he would step down at the end of Biden’s first term, especially if former President Donald Trump is successful in a potential third bid for the White House in 2024.
Fauci has been one of the main faces of the COVID-19 pandemic and its mask mandates, economic and social shutdowns, and vaccination incentives. He will also retire as head of the NIAID Immunoregulation Laboratory.
“I will be leaving these positions this December to pursue the next chapter of my career. It has been the honor of a lifetime to lead NIAID, an extraordinary agency, for so many years and through so many scientific and public health challenges. I am very proud of our many accomplishments,” Fauci said in an Aug. 22 statement.
His tenure began during the Reagan administration and included the federal response to the AIDS/HIV crisis in the 1980s as well as the recent global COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to use what I’ve learned as director of NIAID to continue to advance science and public health, and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders who are helping to prepare the world for future infectious disease threats,” Fauci said.
Biden praised Fauci’s tenure and service in a statement on Monday.
“As he leaves his position in the US government, I know that the American people and the world will continue to benefit from Dr. Fauci’s expertise in what he does next. Whether you met him in person or not, he touched the lives of all Americans through his work. I express my deepest gratitude for his public service. Thanks to him, the United States of America is stronger, more resilient and healthier,” said Biden.
Not everyone is so appreciative.
Animal rights activists—including the organization For the Ethical Treatment of Animals—rebuked Fauci and other medical researchers for continuing to test animals such as dogs and monkeys.
PETA welcomed Fauci’s early exit.
“Fauci is the second dinosaur after former National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins to announce his retirement after PETA protests,” said Alka Chandna, vice president of the Virginia-based animal rights group. “Under Fauci’s leadership, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases harmed and killed millions of animals, including tens of thousands of monkeys in failed AIDS experiments (in which no vaccine was produced to prevent HIV), as well as dogs that were subjected to outrageous cruelty and pointless poisoning tests. Neither Fauci nor Collins met an animal on which they would not experiment.”
Animal rights activists have sought to restrict NIH and other federal medical research on animals, particularly beagles and other dogs. U.S. Rep. Greg Stoib, D-Florida, introduced legislation earlier this month to ban medical testing on animals.
“Every year, the NIH uses more than $40 billion of taxpayer dollars to fund its research projects, including many recent cruel examples of the use of dogs. Americans are unwilling to allow the heinous abuse of puppies and dogs in the name of research. “My legislation would cut every penny of federal NIH funding for these ruthless dog experiments,” Steube said in a statement.
Other conservative Republicans are also glad to see Fauci leave after battles with COVID-19 over massive economic and social shutdowns and a push for masks and vaccines by Democrats and some big employers. Some conservatives also pressed Fauci about the origin of COVID-19 and whether it was linked to medical laboratory research in the city of Wuhan, China.
“For two years, Democrats in Congress have refused to hold a single hearing to question the origins of COVID-19 or our government’s involvement in Chinese biolabs,” said U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfo, a Republican who represents California’s northernmost districts. “Now that we are months away from the Republicans regaining the majority, Dr. Fauci is announcing early retirement is no accident. Even in retirement, Dr. Fauci can expect to be held accountable for his role in the politicization of COVID and the unjustified shutdown of the country.”
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, D-Kentucky, also promised a “full investigation into the origins of the pandemic” even if Fauci steps down. Paul engaged in high-profile sparring with Fauci during the congressional hearings.
Democrats and much of the medical establishment welcomed Fauci during the pandemic. They also praise his work when he announces his retirement.
“I will always be grateful that we had a once-in-a-century public health leader to lead us through a once-in-a-century pandemic,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement.
The American Medical Association also recognized Fauci’s service.
“For more than 50 years, Dr. Anthony Fauci has been a strong and steadfast voice for science—and for data-driven answers to some of the biggest public health challenges of our time,” said Jack Resneck Jr., MD, who serves as AMA president. “Through the HIV/AIDS crisis, Ebola, Zika, and nearly three years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Fauci has not only provided wise counsel to presidents of both parties, but has also intelligently used today’s media to provide clear information and direct guidance and information to of the American people. Throughout his decades of work, Dr. Fauci has advocated for patients, saved lives and, through simple human acts like hugging a Dallas nurse who survived Ebola, destigmatized the disease.”
Fauci was the highest-paid federal employee, earning more than $400,000 a year. He is also scheduled to receive a lucrative pension. A number of other lawmakers, including in Oregon, declined or did not respond to requests for comment on Fauci’s tenure and future departure.