During the coronavirus pandemic, Collins was on the front line urging Americans to wear masks and get vaccinated. While Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and President Joe Biden’s senior medical advisor became the most visible advocate of the government’s vaccination efforts.
“This is how it should be,” said Collins late last month of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to initially restrict boosters to certain vulnerable populations, despite the Biden government’s promise that boosters would be widely introduced by September 20. “Playing science in a very transparent way, looking at the data coming from multiple places, our country and other countries, and trying to make the best decision for the moment,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, praised Collins’ contributions to biomedical science and wrote on Twitter: “I am sad to see his resignation and would like to express his deep appreciation for decades of leadership.”
Raised on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Collins was fascinated by the emerging field of genetics after studying chemistry at the University of Virginia and graduating from Yale. He enrolled in the University of North Carolina Medical School at Chapel Hill, then moved to positions at Yale and the University of Michigan, where he eventually identified genes for cystic fibrosis and other diseases.
Collins has spoken extensively about his conversion from atheism to Christianity and in 2006 wrote a book entitled “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” A year later he founded the BioLogos Foundation, a group that aims to reconcile religion and science, arguing that God created the world through evolution.
In 2009 he left the organization after President Barack Obama appointed him head of the NIH and was sworn in after unanimous approval by the Senate.
During his tenure, Collins had drawn the wrath of anti-abortion groups who opposed his support for the use of fetal tissue in medical research but got away politically unscathed. An immensely popular figure on Capitol Hill, Collins has also made efforts to reach the religious community throughout his career that continued during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For someone who is a believer, this could be called an answer to prayer,” he said Religious news service last month regarding the coronavirus vaccine. “If we’ve all prayed to God to somehow get out of this terrible pandemic, and what happens when these vaccines are developed that are safe and effective, well then why don’t you want to say, ‘Thank you God’ and the Roll up your sleeves?”
In 2017, then-President Donald Trump asked Collins to remain as NIH director, as did President Joe Biden after taking the White House in 2020.
Previously, he headed the National Human Genome Research Institute and oversaw the international human genome mapping project, which was completed in 2003. The work led to President George W. Bush Collins awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
“This monumental advance in scientific knowledge has begun to unlock some of the great mysteries of human life and has created the potential to develop treatments and cures for some of the most serious diseases,” the White House said at the time.
Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.