Outgoing NIH director shares what's next for COVID

"What all of us hope doesn't happen in the next few months is that we get variants that are even more troubling because they would not be as well protected against by the current vaccines," Collins, who announced in early October that he will step down as director by the end of the year, told Reuters via Zoom.

"We would have to go through another generation of vaccine development in order to have something to work against that sort of new version of the pandemic," he said, adding that so far, "we're doing pretty well, even with the Delta (variant)."

Collins is the longest serving presidentially appointed NIH director, having served three U.S. presidents over more than 12 years, the NIH said in a statement in October when announcing Collin's decision to step down.

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