WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to reports, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dr. Anthony Fauci got into a heated exchange at a Senate hearing on Tuesday when Paul brought up the subject of the infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which some have alleged may have “leaked” COVID-19 and kick-started the pandemic’s worldwide outbreak.
Fauci and Paul have often been at odds with one another at hearings such as this, often verbally sparring over subjects ranging from pandemic restrictions and mask-wearing.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Paul made the accusation while questioning Fauci that National Institutes of Health (NIH) had funded research at WIV on “gain of function” research – which involves making pathogens mutate and become more deadly in an attempt to get a head-start on future pandemics – and carried out said research with the aid of a U.S. virologist working on-site.
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“Dr. Fauci, do you still support funding of the NIH funding of the lab in Wuhan?” Paul asked.
Fauci, who was clearly annoyed by the Senator’s question, told Paul that his accusation was completely false.
“Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely, entirely and completely incorrect,” he said. “The NIH has not ever, and does not now, fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Paul insisted that the WIV did carry out gain of function research, and that the U.S.-based funding they received for doing so was actually provided by a way of a 2014 sub-grant from EcoHealth Alliance, a private research group that focuses on emerging diseases caused by human and animal interactions which had received grant money from the NIH.
The Senator then noted that China couldn’t be trusted with having deadly viruses in their possession; Fauci responded that it would be irresponsible not to conduct research on emerging viruses, but again called the accusation of gain of function testing “incorrect.”
Despite its vast potential for safeguarding populations from future pandemics, the topic of gain of function has been a hot-button point of debate in the United States for years; some have questioned the ethics of carrying out such potentially dangerous research, including as Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, who decried the grave risks involved.
“[Gain of function] entails a unique risk that a laboratory accident could spark a pandemic, killing millions,” he said.
The high-risk research was actually banned in the U.S. by the Obama administration in 2011, but later lifted in 2017 after far stricter safety protocols were implemented.
Paul then asked Fauci if he believed the allegations that that COVID-19 had “leaked” from the WIV.
“Will you in front of this group categorically say that the COVID-19 virus could not have occurred by serial passage in a laboratory?” he asked, and Fauci admitted that anything was possible.
“I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I’m fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China,” he said. “However, I will repeat again, the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”