Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert who has been outspoken about the disparate impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on Black communities, said on Monday that he plans to leave his job in December.
Fauci, 81, is the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and also serves as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation. He said in a statement that he would “pursue the next chapter of my career,” but wasn’t specific about what that meant.
“While I am moving on from my current positions, I am not retiring,” Fauci wrote. “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. I want to use what I have learned as NIAID Director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders as they help prepare the world to face future infectious disease threats.”
Fauci’s career in government stretches back decades, becoming one of the most well-known, if not polarizing people in the country while holding executive roles in governmental organizations that most people didn’t know existed. Most Americans couldn’t describe the specific roles of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases or its Laboratory of Immunoregulation, but over the past two years it would have been difficult to find someone who lacked an opinion of Fauci himself. Much of that was due to the country’s polarization over Covid-19 vaccines, which was fueled by misinformation about how they worked and conspiracy theories about the government’s motives for promoting them. Those inclined to be vaccinated likely had a positive opinion of Fauci while those skeptical of vaccines, mask mandates and other measures more likely had a dim view of him.
Nothing highlighted the complexities of Fauci’s role more than his strained relationship with former President Donald Trump, who fueled misinformation about the virus himself despite having access to government-approved treatments when he contracted COVID-19 in October 2020. Several times in the pandemic’s first year Fauci was put in the position of having to publicly refute misinformation about the virus or vaccines that had come directly from the president himself.
Fauci also didn’t shy from the fact that race was a factor in how likely people were to contract Covid-19, how likely they were to be vaccinated or to receive adequate medical treatment once infected. In an exclusive interview, he told The Root in May, amid a spike in new cases of the disease, that Black people should be particularly aware of the danger posed by the potential for new variants to emerge.
“The rate of hospitalization and the death rate among 100,000 population is clearly greater in brown and Black populations in the United States compared to the general population and compared to whites,” he said, adding that, “We’re not out of the woods yet by any means.”
Covid-19 wasn’t the first time Fauci took a public stance on a health crisis with a devastating impact among marginalized groups. In the HIV/AIDS epidemic’s early days of the 1980s, he was among the first government scientists to advocate for a proactive response, while the Reagan administration largely ignored the crisis as infections spread among the LGBTQ population. HIV would eventually go on to kill millions in the United States and today, the highest rate of infection—42.1 cases per 100,000 people—is among people who identify as Black or African-American, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.