After more than 50 years of government service, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, who became a national figure during the COVID-19 pandemic while launching relentless personal attacks, is preparing for his next adventure and says he hopes it will include inspiring others. generation to engage in public service.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, 81, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, head of the NIAID Laboratory for Immunological Regulation and chief medical advisor to President Biden, announced last month that he was stepping down from those positions. However, he has openly said that he will not retire.
“I would like to take a look at what I have to offer at this point in my career which is the experience I have gained over the past 54 years as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health and the last 38 years as a Director [NIAID] And it may inspire some of the younger generation of potential scholars and scientists to get them interested in a career in public service, particularly in public health, including medicine and science.” Government Executive In a recent interview. He advised young federal scientists to “stick with science, stick to evidence, stick to public health issues and stay out of politics.”
The following highlights from Executive government Interview with Fauci Edited for length and clarity. The full interview will be on the next episode of the podcast, GovExec Daily.
During his long tenure with the federal government
Well, I came to the NIH 54 years ago, as a 27-year-old doctor [had] Just completed his clinical residency in Internal Medicine at New York Hospital – Cornell Medical Center [now Weill Cornell Medical Center]. I still feel the same extraordinary opportunity, excitement, and stimulating nature of the environment here at the National Institutes of Health and have played multiple roles. I came in as fellow and then junior scientist, chief scientist, then head of a lab, and eventually director of the institute. And at each different level, the responsibilities and opportunities expanded and became more and more exciting.
I could stay here forever, but I don’t think that’s in the cards. You have to step down some time. And there are some things that I would like to do outside of the federal government while I still have the energy, motivation, and good health to do so. But I love everything about the NIH. I’m walking away from him [with] Bittersweet feeling that my life was NIH. I don’t think there are many people who have spent nearly 60 years in one place. I still feel strongly positive now, if not more than I did then.
About the things that have changed and stayed the same in the National Institutes of Health and the federal government
Well, consistency was the integrity of the scientific research process. Scientific advances have been amazing. So, if you want to say what has changed, it is to expand our knowledge, both technically and conceptually about biomedical research. What has changed, however, is the rapid expansion of this knowledge base and source of knowledge. It just got more complicated. Science has been more of a team effort now because there are so many complex aspects to it that a single scientist’s day in the lab alone with their technician – although not completely gone – is very rare.
To leave the government as a national figure And the target of criticism
I don’t think that would happen even in the fringes of my imagination because I was just concentrating on learning infectious diseases and learning immunology. And then when I learned this, I was interested in pursuing research projects…I have been involved in HIV/AIDS since day one in 1981 and had the privilege of being the personal advisor to seven presidents. This is an unusual situation for an institute director to be in, but it was the nature of the illnesses for which I was responsible that put me in a position of policy and public health. That was very general. So, gradually, with HIV, with the attacks of anthrax, pandemic influenza, Ebola, and Zika I became more and more a public figure. When COVID came, that multifocal was amplified by the extraordinary impact that COVID has had on the world.
On the advice of young scientists or others considering a career in the federal government
If you have any kind of tendency or inclination to want to go into public health, particularly public service, but it doesn’t always have to be public service, you can do it in the private sector, but public health is an exceptional field because the impact that can be To speak it in a very positive way, among so many people’s lives, is extraordinary, an opportunity not available in many professions. So, I would encourage young people to realize that this is something that, if you feel you are interested in, you should pursue it seriously because it can be extraordinarily interesting and fulfilling. This would be the advice I would give them. And once you get there, I would say, stick to the science, stick to the evidence, stick to public health issues and stay away from politics.
On what personal attacks from Republicans and the former president mean for the future of public health responses for the federal government and the next generation of public health scientists in government.
These kinds of attacks shouldn’t deter us because there is an anti-science sentiment among some in this country, and certainly not everyone. This manifests itself, for example, through anti-vaccination sentiment, when you have a very safe and effective vaccine, which has already saved many, many, many millions of lives and you still have resistance against use and implementation. This is an unfortunate situation in our society. Therefore, I would encourage young people interested in getting involved in this field not to be pushed back by this, but to realize that the positive aspects of working in public health go far beyond and overshadow the negative issues we’ve had with COVID.
About what the federal government might do differently in its response to monkeypox
This is a question, the answer should always be, you can always do better. no one is perfect. No one should imagine that they are perfect. If you look at what the complaint is among some of the components with some justification, but also perhaps a little exaggerated, is that the federal government, in particular [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], did not come quickly with the distribution of countermeasures that were available. But in fairness to the CDC, they corrected that very quickly in terms of vaccine availability, in terms of test availability, in terms of availability of antivirals in the form of TPOXX. So, I think they did a pretty good job overall. But one can understand some of the concerns that if it could have been done better, it might have been better at delivering interventions to people more quickly than was initially available.
About whether the National Institutes of Health and/or the NIAID should undergo an internal review
We do that all the time. We are constantly reviewing ourselves. I am very pleased to see and like the fact that the CDC has decided to do an internal review to see if they can somehow improve the culture at the CDC and make it more public health oriented rather than academic oriented. The National Institutes of Health is a little different than that because we do biomedical research and constantly do peer review. All we do is peer review. Therefore, we get external inputs into everything we do.
On whether or not the NIH/NIH is applying lessons learned from the pandemic to responding to monkeypox
Well, not only the lessons from COVID, but also the lessons from HIV and this is more important than the lessons from COVID. Because if you look at the demographics of people living with HIV in the very early years, it was mostly blemishes for MSM. This is exactly what we see with monkeypox. The lesson we have learned and hope to continue to realize is that we must keep stigma out of this equation because the enemy of public health is stigma.
About what’s next
Well I haven’t pursued anything specific because the government’s ethics code is clear that you have to make sure you stick to the job you’re doing and to avoid any conflict of interest you’re not involved in anything specific discussions about opportunities yet or else you have to back out of many of the things you want to do out. And I don’t want to do that, I want to put in all my effort in the last four months on the job. But as I’ve stated publicly, I’d like to take a look at what I have to offer at this point in my career which is the experience I’ve gained over the past 54 years as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health and the last 38 years as Director of [NIAID] Perhaps inspiring some of the younger generation of scientists, scientists will be to spark their interest in a career in public service, particularly in the field of public health, including medicine and science.
Final thoughts on his time in government
For me, government service, which is a public service, is, in my opinion, a very, very high calling. I don’t want to say it’s top quality because there are so many other things that other people do in their lives that don’t involve government service are very commendable. But there is no doubt that people, no matter your level of government service, you serve the people of the United States. And that is something that regardless of whether you are at the lowest level or the highest level, you are part of the team serving the public in the United States and this is something all government employees should be proud of.
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