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Thank You, Dr. Fauci, for All You’ve Done — So Far!

Anthony Fauci

Leaving the National Institutes of Health after 54 years, Fauci opens up about this bittersweet moment, his mentor, best days at the office, and what he hopes to do next.

One of the great things that comes along with writing for The Advocate is the opportunity to speak with some amazing people WHO cross many different thresholds -- entertainers, politicians, health care providers, activists, religious leaders, authors, filmmakers, everyday heroes, and so many others from various walks of life.

And not to be biased, since the hundreds of people I've spoken with have made a personal impact, but very few of my interactions come close to the opportunity to get to know Dr. Anthony Fauci. He goes beyond being an American treasure; he's a global influencer. His achievements and dedication to the advancement of treatments and possible cures for AIDS, and his efforts in other areas, are second to none.

In 2008, way before COVID-19 made Dr. Fauci the most trusted physician in America, Republican President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, for his work on the AIDS relief program President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In the 14 years since that time, Dr. Fauci has become iconic. There may never be a physician in our lifetime and beyond who has made such an indelible mark in American history.

This isn't hyperbole or meant as some sort of glorification; it's just a matter of fact. Dr. Fauci was heroic in the way he handled communicating the science and the basics of COVID-19 to the American people during the pandemic. He is one of the very few people who tangled with Donald Trump and came out looking better for it. Can you think of anyone else?

And can you think of anyone else who would have had the ability, smarts, and gusto to pull that off? No offense to Dr. Deborah Birx, but even she did not survive her imbroglio with Trump without being tainted.

While COVID made Fauci an indomitable presence, it really has been his work on HIV and AIDS over the last 40 years that has meant the most to him and to our community. When he announced this year that he was leaving the federal government, many people were saddened, including those of us in the LGBTQ+ community who have been affected by HIV and AIDS.

However, when I spoke to him in the spring about what he would do next, he was unequivocal. "We still have challenges ahead, and we have not -- or will not -- give up, and I am going to remain 100 percent involved, fighting for more support for research, and continuing the fight to find a cure," he told me.

When I caught up with Dr. Fauci this week, in what I billed as his "exit interview," he indicated that he had not made any decisions on where he's going next, and because of ethics rules, has not taken any steps on negotiating. "I won't start reaching out until after I step down," he said. "I'm staying completely clear of any foundations, research, or academic opportunities until I'm no longer with the federal government to avoid any appearance of conflict since I'm still in an influential position. I do know that I would like to write, lecture, and advise on public and global health, including HIV and AIDS, which are my lifelong areas of expertise and where my passions lie."

For Fauci, the realization that he is leaving the federal government is bittersweet. "Sure, I'm looking forward to the future and what's ahead, but I've been with the National Institutes of Health for 54 years and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 38 years, so it's tough to say goodbye. Every day I appreciated driving up to this beautiful campus where our offices are located and working with some of the brightest and most committed people in the world."

Fauci said he will miss the responsibility of managing what he calls "an electrifying institute" with a $6.3 billion budget and the honor of leading a team of thousands of people around the world. "I'm certainly going to miss all of my colleagues, and that includes the hundreds of research collaborators I deal with on a weekly basis, many of whom I selected and trained," he said.

When I asked Fauci who his mentor was at the beginning of his career, he cited Dr. Sheldon Wolff, was a former director of NIAID. "He recruited me to come to the NIH after my residency in New York City, and he was the most wonderful person," Fauci said. "I was so young, and he gave me a lot of responsibility and resources to do my research, which allowed me to advance pretty quickly. He was so generous and supportive, and I'll never forget that."

Fauci said the best days he can recall in the office also coincide with his greatest achievements. "There were four major levels of accomplishment. First, when I was a scientist out of the spotlight in the late '60s and early '70s, I developed effective therapies for formerly fatal and rare inflammatory and immune-mediated diseases. Up to the point of the therapies, the disease was 90 percent fatal, and with the therapies, we turned that around to 93 percent remissions, which was a huge achievement at that time.

"Next, it was the summer of 1996 when the results of the clinical trials came in that showed the success for a combination of drugs and protease inhibitors that reduced the level of the HIV virus indefinitely. Up to that time, AIDS was a death sentence in most cases, so that was without a doubt one of the best days here at the institute, because now people can basically live normal lives."

Fauci said the next milestone occurred January 28, 2003, when President George W. Bush accepted his proposal for the PEPFAR and talked about it in his State of the Union address that day. "That is a phenomenally successful program, and during the last 20 years, we have saved 20-25 million lives worldwide," Fauci said.

And more recently, it was his institute's initial success with a COVID vaccine in July of 2021. "We expected the results to show, at best, 65-70 percent effectiveness at fighting the virus, and when the trials showed that the vaccine was 95 percent effective, well, that was just a very memorable day."

Finally, when Fauci was asked who the most influential person in his life has been thus far, he immediately said his wife, Christine. "She has been my anchor throughout a very stressful professional life and has always been there to soothe me during all the crazy and hectic times. She's been so supportive to me and my career, and I look forward to our new future together."

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.