In late January, Dr. Christine Grady’s husband, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was tapped to join the White House COVID-19 task force. It didn’t take long for the American public to lionize the soft-spoken infectious disease expert. His bespectacled face was meme-ified and printed on coffee mugs, masks, and prayer candles. He inspired love songs and appeared on late-night talk shows. The New Yorker dubbed him “America’s Doctor,” and Brad Pitt played him on SNL.
In a moment when everything seemed to be spinning out of control, Fauci’s televised plain talk united people desperate for the facts and for a trustworthy figurehead. But Grady—who has three grown daughters with Fauci—describes his sudden rise to fame as a “mixed bag” for their family.
“I mean, I think it’s great that he’s able to communicate with people in ways that make things clearer and that make people feel supported and calmer,” she tells ELLE.com via phone. “He’s working an unbelievable amount of hours and not taking many breaks for himself. I do think it’s resulted in what I would call unwanted attention on me and my children. That’s the unfortunate side.”
Grady stopped watching her husband’s televised press briefings months ago—“too political for me,” she says—and instead turned her attention to her own frontline work. As the National Institutes of Health Bioethics Department Chief, Grady’s job is more “conceptual and empirical,” she says. She identifies, researches, and writes about ethical issues concerning COVID-19 vaccines, resource allocation, and the safety of healthcare workers during the pandemic.
Grady began her career at the NIH Clinical Center as a clinical nurse specialist in the immunology and infections disease area, before serving as a deputy director for the bioethics department. She was made chief in 2012, leading investigations into recruitments for scientific studies, incentives, vulnerability, and consents. She’s well known for her work with HIV and AIDS patients in the 1980s, which led to the publication of her book, “The Search for an AIDS Vaccine: Ethical Issues in the Development and Testing of a Preventive HIV Vaccine.”
Now she’s spearheading research into the ethics of America’s COVID-19 response. As of publication date, the virus has reportedly infected more than 7.1 million people worldwide, with at least 408,000 deaths. In an email to ELLE.com, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins describes Grady’s analysis of the pandemic as “invaluable” to the institution, which is the largest biomedical research agency in the world.
Her mornings start at 6:00 a.m. with a glass of orange juice and a bowl of oatmeal, before she settles into her “home office” aka the kitchen table. From a laptop, Grady virtually oversees a team of 30 NIH bioethicists and research fellows, all with diverse backgrounds in law, philosophy, and sociology. The rest of her day is spent consulting with scientists from around the country studying COVID-19 and conducting her own research on the virus.
Last month, the Hastings Center published her paper revealing the challenges frontline nurses face caring for COVID-19 patients, including risks to their own safety when protective resources are scarce. “We also looked at what it’s like taking care of a patient when there are no visitors allowed,” Grady says. “Nurses often step in to be a surrogate family member or must think of creative ways to bring in family members using technology [when someone is being quarantined].”
In May when the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of remdesivir—an experimental drug shown to work in COVID-19 patients—Grady consulted with scientists about how it was being allocated. Gilead Sciences, the company making remdesivir, donated 940,000 vials of the drug (enough for about 120,512 patients), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But now that supply is running low, there are concerns Gilead will charge a high price for the medication, according to CNN.
“Some people think, ‘Bioethics research? That doesn’t even make sense!'” Grady says. “But it does… Things like sharing resources… and returning results to research participants, plus a number of different issues related to how research is being done or should be done, ethically. It’s all really important to consider.”
Just before sundown, Grady shuts off her computer and slips on a face mask for her daily 4 mile power walk around the neighborhood. Fauci also exercises once a day, with a regimented 3.5 mile jog. Grady cooks them dinner, usually asparagus risotto or chicken with spinach. They eat at 7 p.m.
Like so many of us adapting to this new housebound normal, Grady misses dinner parties and meeting up with friends. But mostly, she’s nostalgic for normalcy—before 26,000 people signed a petition to make her husband People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive and before he became a best-selling bobblehead. Grady says their family has had to adapt to the changes in real-time.
“There was no way to know that Tony would get as much attention as he’s gotten from the beginning,” she says. “We do talk and strategize about it… but it’s not something, really, you can do anything about.”
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