NIH director discusses decision to step down
Dr. Francis Collins says the NIH is in a scientifically ‘good place’ as he previews the organization’s future.
Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said Tuesday that mounting accusations surrounding the agency’s involvement in gain-of-function research and the Wuhan Institute of Virology had “absolutely” nothing to do with his resignation.
The 71-year-old physician-geneticist, who oversaw the research center for 12 years, announced his resignation Tuesday, saying he will step down from his post by the end of 2021.
“12 years is a long time,” Collins told “Your World” host Neil Cavuto later Tuesday. “No other NIH director has stayed in this job even close to that. And so, it’s time for new leadership, new vision. Institutions need that, especially scientific institutions.”
Collins said the NIH, which oversees 27 institutions and centers across the country, is in a “good place right now.”
“We have terrific leadership…and I’m not worried with COVID -19 [which is] still of course a huge challenge, that we would lose momentum if I stepped away by the end of the year. We’re okay. We’re doing what we need to scientifically, so it just seems like it’s time for me to step away, get back into my research lab and focus on interesting projects and figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
Collins said Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is technically his subordinate, tried to talk him out of retiring.
“He tried to talk me out of it. He and I have worked closely together now over many years. He’s been there longer than I have. I’ve been there a long time. I think we’ve been good scientific partners. He totally got it and understands that there’s a time for this sort of decision to get made and this is a reasonable one. But It gives the president a chance to identify a new NIH director,” Collins said.
As for his successor, Collins said he hopes the president will “find the best scientist you possibly can” to replace him.
“I think science and faith go hand in hand. I don’t really want to see a future where one has to win and the other has to lose.”
“That’s what I’m looking for to happen,” he told Cavuto.
The conversation took a turn when Cavuto asked Collins whether his resignation has “anything to do with this about what you knew, when you knew it and the source of the coronavirus, the Wuhan lab and whether deliberately or inadvertently your funding helped provide that?”
“No, it didn’t, Neil,” Collins asserted. ” Of course people are always looking for some kind of cause and effect here. I want to absolutely assure you and anybody else listening that that had nothing to do with my decision.
“I also want to say while this is an important issue – we need to understand what happened, how did this virus get started in China – that our funding of that research and the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a million miles away in terms of the genome of the virus that were talking about and to draw the connection is simply not supportable by the data. I wish people would look more closely at that and recognize that is not an area that will give us an answer to how sars COVID-2 got started.”
Asked whether he supports the lab-leak theory, Collins said he thinks “most likely this was a natural origin starting in a bat, maybe traveling through an intermediate host.
But, he emphasized, “I can’t rule out the possibility that secretly the Wuhan Institute got that virus and was studying it and had a lab accident and it got loose. I have no evidence at all to support that,” he continued, “but I can’t exclude it. I wish the Chinese would come clean and reveal their lab records and hospital records of people that got sick in November 2019…but they don’t seem willing to do that.”
Collins went on to say that he supports President Biden’s vaccine mandate despite the “heavy-handed” approach.
“I’m okay with it if it will save lives,” he said. “I’m sorry it has to go to this direction in becoming more heavy-handed but do we want to lose another 100,000 lives that didn’t have to be lost? This is the moment to do that. People rejecting vaccination, it’s not just about themselves. It’s about okay, who else will you infect when you get sick? This is a community responsibility. Freedom is not just about rights. It’s also about responsibilities. If we want to end this pandemic, we all have to be willing to do our part.”
“You think the science only takes over from here?” Cavuto asked.
“I think science and faith go hand in hand,” Collins said. ” I don’t really want to see a future where one has to win and the other has to lose. They’re complementary. There’s different ways of looking for truths. Science is pretty good answers questions about how things work. You need faith to answer questions about why.”
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