Dr. Anthony Fauci praised the “qualified, highly respected Chinese scientists” the National Institutes of Health collaborated with at the Wuhan Institute of Virology over the years, defending NIH’s funding of bat coronavirus research in China.
His latest comments come amid a debate over gain-of-function research and the possibility of COVID-19 originating at the Wuhan lab.
The U.S. intelligence community said in May at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and numerous Trump officials, including the former president himself, have said the Wuhan lab is the most likely origin of COVID-19.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, blasted Fauci and NIH for funding coronavirus research at the Chinese laboratory this week.
In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, Fauci was challenged on a Washington Post article that read, “What everyone can now see clearly is that NIH was collaborating on risky research with a Chinese lab that has zero transparency and zero accountability during a crisis — and no one in a position of power addressed that risk. Fauci is arguing the system worked. It didn’t.”
The Biden health official responded by defending NIH’s funding and repeatedly defending the integrity of the Chinese scientists.
“You know, it’s more complicated than that … If you look at the research that was done, it was research that was highly recommended by peer review, our United States peer reviews. It got a very high score in the peer review system,” Fauci said. “And the purpose of the research was very, very clear. It was to try to determine what was out there in the bat population that might be ultimately risky for us. It was done in the context of trying to find out what the precise environmental bat source was of SARS-CoV-2 so that we could prevent SARS-CoV-2.”
Fauci added: “So, it was research that was done by qualified people. Right now, when there’s all of this thing about China, that’s a different situation now back then when you’re dealing with qualified, highly respected Chinese scientists. So it isn’t what was made out to be about dealing with really, really bad people. Because those scientists were very well-respected in the scientific community internationally.”
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 Shi Zhengli, 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.
In May, Fauci denied the NIH-funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Paul pointed to NIH grants going to EcoHealth that 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, noting it was a crime to lie to Congress, stating, “Gain-of-function research was done entirely at the Wuhan institute by Dr. Shi and was funded by the NIH.”
Paul brought up a November 2017 scientific paper co-authored by Shi 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 China’s government.
Paul said Tuesday, “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.”
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 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.
“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.”
In the past week, Fauci and a top Wuhan lab scientist cited the same scientific paper when arguing in favor of a natural origin for COVID-19 and against the lab leak hypothesis.
Yuan Zhiming, director of the biosafety lab at the Wuhan lab, cited the paper on Thursday during a Beijing press conference in which China rejected a planned WHO follow-up investigation into COVID-19's origins, which would have scrutinized the lab leak hypothesis.
Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, told the Washington Examiner the July paper “contains no new information and no new analysis.”
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy