Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert who became the face of the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Monday he plans to retire by the end of the year.
Fauci, 81, has led the country’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. In 2020, he became a household name in the United States as an adviser to then-President Donald Trump during the initial coronavirus surge into the U.S.
Fauci time and again urged Americans to get vaccinated — and a big majority did so — despite a vocal minority of millions of Americans claiming it was an intrusion on their personal freedom. Many who denied the efficacy of the widely available vaccines died, often acknowledging in their final days that they were wrong.
Fauci, later named by President Joe Biden as his chief medical adviser, supported shutdowns of gyms, bars and restaurants and school closures in the earliest months of the pandemic, drawing the ire of some conservative state and local government officials.
But Fauci also vastly underestimated the scourge of the pandemic and the country’s eventual death toll, which now has killed more than a million people in the U.S., more than in any other nation. Like other health officials, he at first said people out in public did not need to wear face masks and did not initially realize that asymptomatic people were also spreaders of the infection.
Critics ridiculed his mistakes, with Trump toward the end of his presidency questioning Fauci’s expertise, decisions on masking, and the origins of the virus in China. Many health experts relied on his knowledge of infectious diseases, and he was a fixture on television news shows giving Americans the latest advice on how to cope with COVID-19.
Overall, Fauci has advised seven U.S. presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike. After Fauci’s retirement announcement, Biden praised his half-century working for the government.
“Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved,” said Biden, who as vice president worked with Fauci on the nation’s response to Ebola and Zika during the administration of President Barack Obama. “Whether you’ve met him personally or not, he has touched all Americans’ lives with his work.”
Fauci said he would “pursue the next chapter of my career” in retirement, to “inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders.”