Dr. Anthony Fauci stepped down from his government positions on Saturday after serving as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for decades, and more recently, as the White House’s COVID-19 chief adviser.
Earlier this year, Fauci confirmed that he would be stepping down from his federal positions but is not retiring.
“At the end of this month,” NIAID said in a statement in December, “Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIAID, will step down from the role he’s held since 1984.” It included a quote from Fauci that read, “While I am moving on from my current positions, I am not retiring. After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field.”
Several days before his retirement, Fauci told The Guardian, referring to the COVID-19 response, that the “only thing I can say is that we tried our best given our best judgment and our analysis of what was going on around us to make recommendations.”
“I don’t think anybody got it completely 100-percent right but the idea to say that you should have not put any restrictions on anything at a time when there was a tsunami of infections and New York City hospitals were getting overrun, practically—think of Elmhurst hospital, remember those pictures of the cooler trucks with bodies piling up in that—you had to do something pretty significant to slow that down,” he said.
Fauci took over NIAID in 1984 under the Reagan administration. Before that, he had worked in various positions in the federal government since the 1960s.
But it wasn’t until 2020 that Fauci, 82, became a household name in the United States. Starting in early 2020, Fauci has given more than a thousand interviews to various news outlets about COVID-19 and the trajectory of the pandemic, often drawing criticism for his generally dire predictions and changing stances on lockdowns, vaccines, and mask-wearing.
In Congress, Fauci has drawn extensive criticism from Republicans for his agency having provided funds to a third-party research organization to study bat coronaviruses at a laboratory in Wuhan, China. COVID-19, a coronavirus, emerged in the Wuhan area, and in 2021, some U.S. intelligence officials released an inconclusive report saying they believe it emerged from the laboratory.
When Republicans secured the majority in the House in Novembers elections, several incoming committee chairs have promised to hold public hearings on Fauci’s former agency and said they would subpoena the doctor. In his final White House news conference, Fauci told reporters that he would comply with the investigation.
In last week’s interview, Fauci said that widespread lockdown measures that were enacted across U.S. municipalities “was the right thing to do” and claimed that he did not always favor closing down schools for in-person learning.
“If you look at the record and go back to the clips, you’ll see how many times I said, we’ve got to try our best to get the kids back to school as quickly as we possibly can and as safely as we possibly can,” he said. “On the one hand, I was in favor of shutting things down temporarily, but I certainly felt we needed to open up as quickly and as safely as we could.”
In an interview last month with The Washington Post, Fauci asserted that “I’m the first to admit I’m far from perfect. But when you say do over, you know, I really can’t see something that I would do completely over.”
One of his chief critics, Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University, however, said that the longtime federal health official has a “track record” of “total failure” at NIAID.
“People forget that he was the head of our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the report card on that agency is pretty bad after this pandemic. Now, people are angry with Dr. Fauci for his changing recommendations,” Makary told Fox News late last week ahead of Fauci’s retirement. “Really, it’s just a symptom of a much larger and deeper problem. And that is the failure of this agency to do prompt research quickly to answer the big controversies in real-time.”