August 16, 2022
Enlarge / Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the National AIDS Update Conference as it meets at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium on October 12, 1989. Fauci at the time was based in Maryland, but he became a frequent voice for Bay Area residents following the AIDS crisis, even before he became director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984.

Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the US, says “you can guarantee” he’ll step down from his position by January 2025, ending a more than five-decade career as a federal scientist.

In addition to being the current chief medical adviser to the president, Fauci is the long-standing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an institute within the National Institutes of Health. Fauci, who is 81 years old, has held the NIAID director position since 1984. He initially joined the institute as a clinical associate in 1968.

In his nearly four decades as NIAID director, Fauci has advised every sitting president since Ronald Reagan, as well as every administration and every Congress, on infectious disease threats. In his first meeting with the Trump administration in 2017, two years before a novel pandemic coronavirus mushroomed out of Wuhan, China, Fauci provided the same advice he provided to every new administration: We’re likely to see an infectious disease emerge out of left field. Expect the unexpected.

In a wide-ranging interview published early Monday morning, Politico reported that Fauci said he would retire by the end of President Biden’s term. The NIAID did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Ars. But, in a subsequent on-air interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan Monday, Fauci clarified that the comments to Politico were not intended to act as a retirement announcement. He did, however, confirm his plans to retire and the reported timeline.

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Plans and legacy

“What happened is that I gave an interview with a reporter, and they said, ‘You know, you’re going to have to step down sometime. You can’t be in this job forever.’ And I said, ‘You’re absolutely right, I can’t be in this job forever,’ and I don’t anticipate I’ll be in this job at the end of the first term of President Biden, which is January 2025,” Fauci told CNN. “Somehow that got interpreted that it’s announcing my retirement. I just said that it is extremely unlikely, in fact, for sure that I’m not going to be here beyond January 2025. So sometime between now, Kate, and January 2025, you can guarantee I’ll step down.”

In his initial comments to Politico, Fauci said he wants to use his remaining time to help repair the damage from partisan disagreements that raged amid the pandemic, which made both him and science into lightning rods. But, Fauci stressed that the heated political rhetoric, accusations, insults, and even direct threats against him have no bearing on his career decision.

He reiterated that view to CNN, emphasizing his retirement plans are driven by his age and remaining career aspirations.

“Obviously, you can’t go on forever,” the octogenarian medical expert said. “I do want to do other things in my career, even though I’m at a rather advanced age. I have the energy and the passion to continue to want to pursue other aspects of my professional career and I’m going to do that sometime—I’m not exactly sure when, but I don’t see myself being in this job to the point where I can’t do anything else after that.”

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Turning to the attacks against him, he added that his retirement plan “has nothing to do with pressures… all the barbs and the slings and the arrows, that has no influence on me.”

As for his legacy, Fauci said he hopes he is remembered for his landmark work on HIV/AIDS, as well as the expertise he built up at the NIAID over the decades with his hand-selected researchers who will carry on his vision for the institute.