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Jeanne Marrazzo selected to succeed Fauci at the NIH

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Dr. Anthony Fauci retired as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in December. This week, the NIH announced who will be replacing Dr. Fauci, and her name is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has been speaking to friends and colleagues to learn about who she is.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo isn't quite a household name, although she was frequently on TV as an expert during the height of the COVID pandemic. She has striking white curls and bright blue glasses. Here she is in the fall of 2020 on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEANNE MARRAZZO: So a couple of things - I do not think we should outlaw socialization.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Anyone tapped to succeed Dr. Fauci has big shoes to fill. He held the job, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at NIH, for decades. He is a household name, both loved and vilified. Dr. Carlos del Rio is the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He's thrilled by the news of Marrazzo's appointment. He says Marrazzo and Fauci do have a few things in common.

CARLOS DEL RIO: They're both of Italian descent. They're both HIV physicians, and they're both superb communicators.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: But Marrazzo is truly her own person, he says.

DEL RIO: I love Dr. Fauci. He's great. But at the same time, we need to get over it, right? I mean, the Fauci era is over. Now it's the Marrazzo era.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Jeanne Marrazzo grew up in Pennsylvania, near Scranton. She went to Harvard and then got her MD from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Before she took her current job running the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she spent years at the University of Washington. Jen Balkus met her there. She now works in public health for Seattle and King County. Marrazzo was a key mentor as Balkus got her doctorate.

JEN BALKUS: She finds these ways to, like, encourage and push and foster growth and development in people, but all at the same time, allowing them to be the person that they want and need and should be.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The director of infectious diseases at NIH is a big job - running an institute with a $6.3 billion budget. Another friend and colleague, Sharon Hillier of the University of Pittsburgh, says Marrazzo has a lot to tackle.

SHARON HILLIER: A lot of infections that used to only be found more in the tropics moving to the subtropics as climate has changed, the burgeoning epidemic of sexually transmitted infections and, you know, global health, including HIV but not just HIV.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Friends describe Marrazzo as a straight shooter, a kind colleague with a great laugh who loves going out for dinner. She's openly gay, and Balkus says she's also joyful and fun. She thinks about an annual conference they both attend.

BALKUS: Part of the meeting culminates in a gala dance, and Jeanne is always, always on the dance floor.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo will take her position at NIH in the fall. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.