Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed again during a Senate hearing, with the Kentucky Republican and the president’s chief medical adviser both accusing the other of lying when it came to the thorny subject of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been adamant National Institutes of Health grants did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab but has also admitted he doesn’t actually know what the secretive Chinese lab has been up to.
On May 11, during a heated exchange with Paul, Fauci denied the NIH funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Paul pointed to NIH grants going to Peter Daszak’s New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, which then provided funding to the Wuhan lab, which a Trump State Department fact sheet contended carried out secretive gain-of-function experiments and worked with China’s military. At the time, Fauci told Paul, “The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Paul brought the issue up again during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
“Dr. Fauci, as you are aware, it is a crime to lie to Congress. Section 1001 of the U.S. criminal code creates a felony and a five-year penalty for lying to Congress,” Paul said. “On your last trip to our committee, on May 11, you stated that the NIH has not ever and has not now funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And yet, gain-of-function research was done entirely at the Wuhan institute by Dr. Shi and was funded by the NIH.”
The Republican senator brought up a November 2017 scientific paper co-authored by Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli and other Chinese scientists, contending that “she took two bat coronavirus genes — spike genes — and combined them with a SARS-related backbone to create new viruses that are not found in nature.”
The paper by Shi noted it received funding from the NIH and was “jointly funded” by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
NIH’s RePORTER website said the agency provided $15.2 million to EcoHealth Alliance over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence. Daszak maintained a long working relationship with Shi, sending her lab at least $600,000 in NIH funding. Daszak was also part of the WHO-China team that dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year.
Paul said: “These lab-created viruses were then shown to replicate in humans. These experiments combine genetic information from different coronaviruses that infect animals, but not humans, to create novel artificial viruses able to infect human cells. … This research fits the definition of the research that the NIH said was subject to the pause in 2014 to 2017 — a pause in funding of gain-of-function. But the NIH failed to recognize this, defines it away, and it never came under any scrutiny.”
After a pause in 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Framework in 2017, ostensibly to review any grants that might involve gain-of-function research, but the 2019 renewal of the EcoHealth Alliance grants were not subjected to the review.
Paul pointed to comments by Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, who said in May: “The Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses able to infect human cells and laboratory animals. … This research matches, indeed, epitomizes the definition of ‘gain-of-function research of concern’ for which federal funding was ‘paused’ in 2014-2017.”
Paul asked Fauci if he wished to retract his May statement before Congress.
“I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement,” Fauci said. “This paper that you are referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.”
Paul asked: “When you take an animal virus and you increase its transmissibility to humans, you’re saying that’s not gain-of-function?”
Fauci replied: “That is correct, and Sen. Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.”
Gain-of-function research is defined by HHS as research “that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease” and warns that these studies “may entail biosafety and biosecurity risks.”
Paul referenced the definition of gain-of-function and contended, “They took animal viruses that only occur in animals, and they increased their transmissibility to humans.” Fauci again said, “It is not” gain-of-function.
The Republican senator replied: “It is a dance, and you’re dancing around this because you’re trying to obscure responsibility for 4 million people dying around the world from a pandemic.”
Fauci retorted: “Now you’re getting into something, if the point that you’re making is that the grant that was funded as a sub-award from EcoHealth to Wuhan created SARS-CoV-2, that’s where you are getting …”
Paul, however, cut him off, saying, “We don’t know if it came from the lab, but all the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab, and there will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself.”
Fauci replied: “I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, senator, because, if you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments that were given in the annual reports that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible …“
But Paul cut him off again, saying, “No one is alleging those viruses caused the pandemic. What we’re alleging is that gain-of-function research was going on in that lab, and NIH funded it.”
Fauci said that “I am not obfuscating the truth — you’re the one” and that “those viruses are molecularly impossible to result in SARS-CoV-2.”
Paul repeated, “No one is saying those viruses caused the pandemic,” but rather, “They are gain-of-function viruses.” Fauci again denied this.
Paul said: “They’re gain-of-function viruses because they were animal viruses that became more transmissible in humans, and you funded it. You won’t admit the truth.”
Fauci replied: “You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals — I totally resent that.”
“If anyone is lying here, senator, it is you,” Fauci told Paul, adding, “This is a pattern that Sen. Paul has been doing at multiple hearings based on no reality. He keeps talking about gain-of-function — this has been evaluated multiple times by qualified people to not fall under the gain-of-function definition. I have not lied before Congress.”
NIH contended earlier this year that the NIAID “determined the research in the grant” to EcoHealth Alliance “was not gain-of-function research.”