Rand Paul accuses Fauci of trying 'to cover your ass' over gain-of-function research


Republican Sen. Rand Paul accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of trying “to cover your ass” and playing word games over his denials about whether the National Institutes of Health funded risky gain-of-function research in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Amid the search for the origins of COVID-19, Fauci has been adamant that the NIH did not fund  gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. But Fauci, the leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also admitted he doesn’t actually know everything that goes on in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. NIH recently concluded that EcoHealth Alliance violated NIH guidelines when conducting bat coronavirus research while working with the Chinese government lab, but NIH and Fauci insist that this still wasn’t gain-of-function research.

On Thursday, during a Senate hearing , Paul pressed Fauci.


“What we are saying that this was a risky type of research — gain-of-function research — it was risky to share this with the Chinese and that Covid may have been created from a not yet revealed virus,” Paul said. “We don’t anticipate that the Chinese are going to reveal the virus if Covid came from their lab. You know that, and yet you continue to mislead. You continue to support NIH funding going to Wuhan. You continue to say you trust the Chinese scientists. You appear to have learned nothing from this pandemic.”

Paul then asked: “Will you today finally take some responsibility for funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan?”

“Senator, with all due respect, I disagree with so many of the things that you’ve said,” Fauci replied. “First of all, gain of function is a very nebulous term. We have spent — not us, but outside bodies — a considerable amount of effort to give a more precise definition to the type of research that is of concern that might lead to a dangerous situation. You are aware of that. That is called P3CO.” He was referring to the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight guidelines.

EcoHealth founder Peter 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 WHO-China team that dismissed  the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely” earlier this year, and he has called the lab leak a “conspiracy theory.”

The NIH recently concluded  Daszak violated the terms of his grant while doing bat coronavirus experiments, which he denies. He condemned what he says are the NIH’s “misinterpretations” and lamented how the agency told him to stop funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology last year.

The Department of Health and Human Services defines  gain-of-function research as research “that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease, help define the fundamental nature of human-pathogen interactions, thereby enabling assessment of the pandemic potential of emerging infectious agents” and warns that gain-of-function studies “may entail biosafety and biosecurity risks.”

Lawrence Tabak, the NIH's principal deputy director, said in a letter to Congress last month that EcoHealth provided a five-year progress report on bat coronavirus research conducted under an NIH grant and that “in this limited experiment, laboratory mice infected with the SHC014 WIV1 bat coronavirus became sicker than those infected with the WIV1 bat coronavirus.”

“As sometimes occurs in science, this was an unexpected result of the research, as opposed to something that the researchers set out to do,” the NIH official said, adding, “EcoHealth failed to report this finding right away.”

Republican lawmakers and others argue this shows the NIH admitting that EcoHealth had conducted risky gain-of-function research with NIH funding. The NIH insists it has not funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan, where COVID-19 first emerged.

Paul told Fauci that “we are aware that you deleted ‘gain of function’ from the NIH website.”

“Let’s get back to the operating framework and guardrails which we operate under. And you have ignored them,” Fauci said. “The guidelines are very very clear that you have to be dealing with a pathogen that clearly is shown, and very likely to be highly transmissible and uncontrollable in humans, and to have a high degree of morbidity and mortality, and that you do experiments to enhance that, hence the word ePPP — enhanced potential pandemic pathogen.”

Paul then asked: “So, when EcoHealth Alliance took the virus SHC014 and combined it with WIV1 and caused a recombinant virus that doesn’t exist in nature and it made mice sicker — mice that had humanized cells — you’re saying that that’s not gain-of-function research?”

Fauci replied that “according to the framework and guidelines —“ before the Republican senator cut him off.

“So what you’re doing is defining away gain of function. You’re simply saying it doesn’t exist because you changed the definition on the NIH website,” Paul replied. “This is terrible, and you’re completely trying to escape the idea that we should do something about trying to prevent a pandemic from leaking from a lab. The preponderance of evidence now points to this coming from a lab. And what you’ve done is changed the definition on your website to try to cover your ass, basically.”

Paul added: “You have to admit that this research was risky. The NIH has now rebuked them — your own agency has rebuked them. The thing is that you’re still unwilling to admit that they gained in function when they say they became sicker. They gained in lethality. It’s a new virus. That’s not gain of function?”

Fauci denied again that it was gain-of-function research and claimed he wasn’t the one responsible for any definitions changing.

“According to the definition that is currently operable — you know senator, let’s make it clear for the people who are listening. The current definition was done over a two to three year period by outside bodies, including the NSABB [National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity], two conferences by the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine on December 2014, March 2016. We commissioned external risk-benefit assessment, and then on January of 2017, the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the White House issued the current policy. I haven’t changed any definition.”

Paul said, “Until you accept it, until you accept responsibility, we’re not going to get anywhere close to trying to prevent another lab leak of this dangerous sort of experiment. You won’t admit that it’s dangerous, and for that lack of judgment, I think it’s time that you resign.”

Fauci previously said in an interview that EcoHealth “should have put their progress report in in a timely manner — no denial of that, and there will be administrative consequences.”


Documents unearthed last month show the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency rejected a $14.2 million funding request from EcoHealth in 2018 because DARPA worried that the coronavirus experiment funding request could “potentially involve [gain-of-function] research” and “could have put local communities at risk.”

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