Rand Paul Urges Fauci to Abandon Gain-of-Function Research, Citing Possible COVID Lab Leak

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Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) excoriated Dr. Anthony Fauci during a Tuesday hearing for continuing to defend gain-of-function research on deadly viruses despite the possibility that the novel coronavirus leaked from a laboratory that was performing such research in Wuhan, China.

Paul asked Dr. Fauci if he still supports National Institutes of Health funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists performed gain-of-function research—i.e. making viruses more infectious and/or deadly—on bat coronaviruses. The EcoHealth Alliance diverted $600,000 in grants from the NIH to the WIV in the form of sub-grants from 2014 through 2019, for the purpose of studying bat coronaviruses.

“For years, Dr. Ralph Baric, a virologist in the U.S., has been collaborating with Dr. Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Virology Institute, sharing his discoveries about how to create superviruses,” Paul said. “This gain-of-function research has been funded by the NIH. … Dr. Fauci, do you still support funding of the NIH lab in Wuhan?”

“Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect,” Dr. Fauci said. “[The] NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

The U.S. government has assessed that the WIV was conducting gain-of-function research in some form, reporter Josh Rogin noted in Politico in March. Jamie Metzl, an expert on gene editing for the World Health Organization, has also noted that the WIV performed gain-of-function research.

When Paul asked if Dr. Fauci still backed funding from NIH going to the WIV in previous years, Dr. Fauci responded that it would have been “irresponsible” not to investigate bat viruses in China after the advent of SARS in 2002.

“Will you categorically say that COVID-19 could not have occurred through serial passage [a method of creating a virus] in a laboratory?” Paul asked.

“I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done and I am fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China,” Dr. Fauci said. “However, I will repeat, the NIH…categorically has not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

At least one study conducted at the WIV involving “recombination” of SARS-related coronavirus from bats cites the NIH as a source of funding, Richard Ebright, Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, noted on Twitter.

The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the institution headed by Dr. Fauci, said it was impossible to know if the WIV was performing gain-of-function research in comments to the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

“WIV is a Chinese institution which we assume has multiple sources of funding. It is impossible for us to be aware of nor can we account for all of their activities,” the NIAID said. “We can only speak to our relationship with them. As stated, at no time did NIAID fund gain-of-function research to be conducted at WIV.”

Fauci is a leading advocate for gain-of-function research and was instrumental in reauthorizing it domestically during the Trump administration, after it was suspended by the Obama administration in 2014 due to safety concerns. This year, amid the pandemic, the NIH proposed significantly increasing the budget for gain-of-function research despite the possibility that COVID was the product of such research.

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