Dr. Anthony Fauci, face of the nation's pandemic health response, to step down in December

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been the face of the nation's pandemic health response, announced Monday that he intends to retire from government service in December "to pursue the next chapter" of his career.

Fauci, 81, serves as chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said Monday that he will be leaving both positions after four decades of advising seven presidents.

"It has been the honor of a lifetime to have led the NIAID, an extraordinary institution, for so many years and through so many scientific and public health challenges. I am very proud of our many accomplishments," he said Monday in a statement.

Fauci said last month that he intended to retire before the end of Biden's current term.

Fauci advised former President Donald Trump and Biden, as well as a weary country, through the COVID-19 pandemic. He held a similar role as a public figure on infectious disease for viral epidemics including HIV, SARS, swine flu, Zika, Ebola and avian influenza.

"Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved," Biden said in a White House statement Monday. "As he leaves his position in the U.S. government, I know the American people and the entire world will continue to benefit from Dr. Fauci’s expertise in whatever he does next."

Fauci came into the public eye at the onset of COVID-19, speaking about the virus and government response in public interviews, White House briefings and Sunday morning shows. He publicly sparred with Trump over the country's vaccine rollout timeline, COVID-19 treatment options and the severity of the virus. Fauci said in May that he would leave his role if Trump were reelected.

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Fauci quickly became a national icon: his face was on T-shirts, a bobblehead was modeled after him, and he even had a drink (the "Fauci Pouchy") named after him at a bar in Washington, D.C.

The public health figure also faced political attacks and death threats during his tenure and was granted a security detail for his protection. A West Virginia man who sent emails threatening Fauci was recently sentenced to three years in federal prison.

In his statement Monday, Fauci indicated that he's not retiring from public health work, saying, "I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field."

Fauci's colleagues shared gratitude for his years of service in statements Monday.

“This is a decision we all knew would eventually come but hoped never would," said Xavier Becerra, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, in a statement. "I am privileged to know Dr. Fauci professionally and personally and deeply admire his decades of public service that have undoubtedly improved the health of millions of people globally."

Fauci received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2008 in recognition of his efforts addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., and he was named one of Time's 100 most influential people of 2020.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anthony Fauci to step down in December from advisory role for Biden