Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested that it would’ve been “negligent” for the National Institutes of Health not to fund bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and declined to commit not to collaborate with Chinese government scientists in the future, insisting that “we have always been careful.”
Last week, Sen. Rand Paul requested Attorney General Merrick Garland criminally investigate Fauci over his Senate testimony, during which he said the NIH never funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, which the Kentucky Republican says is a lie. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, insists the NIH grants did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.
On Sunday, CNN’s Jake Tapper referenced last week’s back-and-forth between Paul and Fauci, noting the NIH has insisted the U.S. government-funded experiments proposed by the EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan lab did not meet the NIH’s definition of gain-of-function research and asked if the United States should “collaborate” with such labs whose research critics consider risky.
Fauci defended the NIH’s approval process and the funding of bat coronavirus research in Wuhan, saying it had been important to try to understand where SARS-CoV-1 originated, years before the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
“If you go back to when this research really started and look at the scientific rationale for it, it was a peer-reviewed proposal that was peer-reviewed and given a very high rating for the importance of why it should be done to be able to go and do a survey of what was going on among the bat population because everyone in the world was trying to figure out what the original source of the original SARS CoV-1 was — and in that context, the research was done,” Fauci insisted. “It was very regulated. It was reviewed. It was given progress reports. It was published in the open literature. So, I think if you — if you look at the ultimate back rationale, why that was started, it was almost as if you didn’t pursue that research, you would be negligent because we were trying to find out how to prevent this from happening again.”
At issue in Paul’s criminal referral is Fauci’s testimony before Congress on May 11, when he denied under oath that the NIH funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Paul pointed to NIH grants going to the EcoHealth Alliance, which then provided funding to the Wuhan lab that 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.”
NIH’s RePORTER website said the agency provided $15.2 million to Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence. Daszak maintained a long working relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, sending her lab at least $600,000 in NIH funding. Daszak was also part of the World Health Organization-China team that dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year.
On Sunday, Tapper pressed Fauci on whether he is still confident collaboration with China can continue after the Asian country’s government has not allowed for transparency.
“Going forward, we are always going to be very, very careful. Go through all kinds of review, including the risk-benefit ratio. So, if your question … is looking forward, are we going to be very careful about the research that we do? Well, we have always been very careful,” Fauci said. “And looking forward, we will continue to be very careful in what we do. And we are always willing to reexamine the criteria that are used when you do research, wherever you do them.”
The health authority added: “But I think doing research in the context of where these things happen is very important. And SARS-CoV-1 originated in China, and that is the reason — if we were starting to look for bats in Secaucus, New Jersey, or Fairfax County, Virginia, it wouldn’t contribute very much to our understanding of where SARS-CoV-1 originated.”
Paul told Garland that a 2017 paper on Shi’s experiments at the Wuhan lab, which cited an NIAID award, included research that “fits the definition of gain-of-function research.”
During the most recent hearing on Tuesday, Paul said that it was a crime to lie to Congress and stated that “gain-of-function research was done entirely at the Wuhan institute by Dr. Shi and was funded by the NIH.”
“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.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said earlier this month that there was a “premature push” to dismiss the lab leak theory during the first WHO-China investigation earlier this year and insisted upon a follow-up inquiry into the Wuhan lab. The Chinese government shot down a second investigation into its government labs last week. The Biden White House called China’s decision “irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous.”
The U.S. intelligence community said in May that at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis. That same month, President Joe Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” investigative efforts and gave them 90 days to report back. Former President Donald Trump, former CDC Director Robert Redfield, former COVID-19 “testing czar” Brett Giroir, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House GOP China Task Force Chairman Michael McCaul, and others have said the Wuhan lab is the most likely origin for COVID-19.
The NIH contended this year that the NIAID “determined the research in the grant” to the EcoHealth Alliance “was not gain-of-function research.”