In one of the first calls he made as president-elect, Joe Biden asked the Dr Anthony Fauci that, in addition to leading the White House medical team, he led a special group against covid-19. The epidemiologist and Biden knew each other, they had coincided when the Democrat was vice president during Barack Obama’s second term and the doctor was responding to other crises, those of Zika and Ebola. Fauci was no stranger to Biden, but he was to public opinion, which put a face on the honest official because of the coronavirus. In a long half century of career, exercised throughout seven Administrations of both political signs, he had only jumped to the headlines when Donald Trump tried to tarnish his credit, in 2020.
Fauci, 81, has confirmed this Monday his retirement in December -he turns 82 on the 24th of that month-, to dedicate himself to “another phase of his career.” He already anticipated in July that he would leave him at the end of Biden’s term, once the pandemic seems on track as a new “stable” reality. The Democrat has fired him with a statement that exudes appreciation and consideration. Few scientists have had the impact on public health policy of Fauci, who has spent more than five decades at the National Institutes of Health. Now the Italian-American doctor is stepping down as the White House’s top medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he has headed for 38 years. He also directs the laboratory of this organism.
In 2020, Fauci stoically endured Trump’s barrage of disqualifications on the coronavirus. Undaunted, replicas of him are still remembered, with scientific arguments in handto the republican, who came to insinuate his intention to fire him “People are sick of Fauci and all those idiots”, Trump said in the final stretch of his term, calling him a disaster and criticizing his seniority as if it were a burden: “He is a good guy, but he has been in the Administration for 500 years.” Several Republican congressmen recalled Fauci’s unconditional surrender since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. “If more Americans listened to his advice, we would have fewer cases of covid-19 and it would be safer to go back to school and work and restaurants,” Senator Lamar Alexander said at the time. The best thing about the scuffle is that not even an angry Trump could fire him, because he is a career official, not a public office. That is why the first person to leave the White House was Trump, not the immunology specialist.
Biden’s arrival at the White House was a relief for the doctor, a daily and friendly figure, always ready, both for journalists as in scientific circles; His tireless informative facet appeared in the homes of millions of Americans with large doses of pedagogy, in a context in which the fight against the coronavirus was not only a scientific challenge, but an increasingly dangerous weapon. The polarization of the United States found one of its battlefields in the health emergency, with the Republican side largely given over to denial because they saw in it a symbol of confinement and the use of masks.
With the vaccination campaign, they redoubled their criticism and there were those who accused the laboratory he directs of strange collusion with China (for the Republicans, the origin of the virus). Senator Rand Paul, the party’s heavyweight, accused him a year ago of lying about the lab investigations, and Fauci replied: “If anyone is lying here, it’s you.” A thick phrase addressed to a legislator, with few precedents in institutional rhetoric. The most recalcitrant Republicans threaten to investigate him if they gain control of Congress in November, but by then Fauci will already be out, without revolving doors to the pharmaceutical industry, as some, also Republicans, maliciously point out.
Managing the pandemic was the main concern of Americans in the fall of 2020 and, after winning the election, Democrat Biden placed all his trust in Fauci. “I have been able to call him at any hour of the day for advice as we tackled this once-in-a-generation pandemic. His commitment to the work is unwavering and he does it with unparalleled spirit, energy, and scientific integrity,” Biden stressed about Fauci’s work at the head of the special team created by the new Administration to fight covid.
Surviving seven presidents with intact prestige is within the reach of very few. Awarded the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush, the nation’s highest civilian honor, Fauci has navigated every viral public health crisis in the country, from AIDS to Covid, from Zika and Ebola to various outbreaks of bird flu. That is why, in Biden’s opinion, “America is stronger, more resilient and healthier because of him.” The president has also recalled that Fauci’s contribution has not only saved lives in the country, but “around the world.”
“As long as I’m healthy, which I am, and I’m passionate about what I do, which is the case, I want to do some things outside the scope of the federal government,” Fauci explained in an interview on Sunday. For example, he spoke of using his public health experience and knowledge to “hopefully inspire the younger generation.”
Thanks in large part to Fauci’s work during the pandemic, and the success of the vaccination campaignthe prevalence of the virus in the US today shows data comfortable: a 19% decrease in new cases and a 7% decrease in hospitalizations and deaths, according to the daily count of New York Times. For the scientist, this is not good news: “It doesn’t make me happy that we still have 400 deaths a day; I hope that in the coming months, things will improve.” Another new epidemic, that of monkeypox, which has been declared a health emergency by Washington, is driving health authorities crazy and has forced them to divert attention and resources, including the closure of vaccination centers against covid-19.
It was the pandemic from which, by the way, he was not spared either, when he became infected in June, the one that catapulted Fauci to fame. Not even the solemn image of Bush Jr. imposing the Medal of Freedom on him in 2008 earned him the popularity that the coronavirus brought him. Surely he would have been happier in the shadow zone of the investigation, out of the spotlight, as he planned to do, they say, when Biden took over from Trump in the White House. He didn’t do it out of a sense of duty, even at the cost of facing protection from threats to him and his family. Fauci now hangs his eternal white coat, because, as he said in July, “if I wait for the covid to disappear, I will be 105 years old.”