Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, is stepping down as head of the agency after serving three U.S. presidents for more than a decade. Collins joins Washington Post senior writer Frances Stead Sellers to discuss his legacy at the helm of the nation’s top biomedical organization and assess the latest developments in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.


“I am concerned because this is a variant… that has more than 50 mutations… and it makes it, apparently, very contagious… This is going to be potentially the dominant viral strain in the United States in just two or three weeks.” (Washington Post Live)
“In a circumstance where all the other [vaccines] are lined up to choose... it’s pretty clear the mRNA vaccines provide you a higher level of protection. J&J still give you quite a bit but the mRNAs are a little better… and there is this rare blood clotting problem.” (Washington Post Live)
“If we’re going to get through this season, which is threatening to be pretty dicey here, we’re all going to have to double down on those common sense measures, plus get your booster.” (Washington Post Live)
“It’s a cause of great concern… Even if it’s only 10 percent of people who’ve been infected who end up with long-covid… that might mean there’s 5 million people with long-covid out there who have had some problems with long-covid… That’s a big public health issue.” (Washington Post Live)
“We have in this country fallen into this divisive kind of set of tribal attitudes, and much that does seem to reflect¬–in some of those tribes at least–deep distrust of the government often times whipped up by conspiracies that have no basis in fact but spread like wildfire through social media… We’re in trouble I think as a society. We seem to have lost… our anchor to truth and to sizing up a claim by whether there’s any evidence behind it.” (Washington Post Live)
“[There is] a lot of effort being made on the part of leaders in the Christian church to try to convince congregations and pastors who lead them that this is not something fearful, this is answer to prayer, that’s how I see it.” (Washington Post Live)

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD

Provided by the NIH.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. was appointed the 16th Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. He was sworn in on August 17, 2009. In 2017, President Donald Trump asked Dr. Collins to continue to serve as the NIH Director. President Joe Biden did the same in 2021. Dr. Collins is the only Presidentially appointed NIH Director to serve more than one administration. In this role, Dr. Collins oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research. NIH announced that Dr. Collins has chosen to end his tenure as the NIH Director. His last day is December 19, 2021.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Dr. Collins is an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. In 2020, he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (UK) and was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity.