I do not watch television news, but I suspect the story of Senator Rand Paul’s questioning of Dr. Anthony Fauci, if covered at all, is generally of the form “Ignorant Senator smears Hero Doctor.” An alternative headline would be “Practicing MD challenges career bureaucrat.”
The exchange itself was rancorous and somewhat confusing. Dr. Fauci ended up replying (less charitably, you could say he seized the deflection opportunity) to an implication that NIH funding was directly related to the CCP virus pandemic. This would also require that some form of the lab leak hypothesis is true; or worse, it was deliberate. Three weeks ago we weren’t allowed to speak of a lab leak, but even the Biden Administration is changing its mind.
A lab leak is possible, and unproven. Paul did walk it back. But, by that time, Dr. Fauci was off on the tangent.
Senator Paul should have been more circumspect, his main point is beyond rational contention. To wit: Fauci’s repeated and absolute denial the NIH ever funded gain of function research at the Wuhan lab depends on semantigans worthy of Bill Clinton’s question about what the word “is” means.
In challenging Fauci, Paul referred to a 2017 Wuhan lab research paper linked next. It credits NIH with funding recombinant experimental work on coronavirus and infectivity testing against the human ACE2 target. One author, Shi Zhengli, is known as the “Bat Woman” at the Wuhan lab.
Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus – PLOS (Public Library of Science) Pathogens
This work was jointly funded by National Natural Science Foundation of China (81290341, 31621061) to ZLS, [etc. etc.]… the National Institutes of Health (NIAID R01AI110964)…
Using the reverse genetics technique we previously developed for WIV1 , we constructed a group of infectious bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones with the backbone of WIV1 and variants of S genes from 8 different bat SARSr-CoVs…
The HeLa cell line was kindly provided by Australian Animal Health Laboratory, CSIRO (Geelong, Australia). HeLa cells expressing human ACE2 were constructed as described previously . HeLa cells expressing human ACE2 and Vero E6 cells were cultured on coverslips in 24-well plates (Corning) incubated with the newly isolated or recombinant bat SARSr-CoVs at a multiplicity of infection (MOI) = 1.0 for 1h…
HeLa cells expressing human ACE2 were inoculated with WIV1, Rs4874, WIV1-Rs4231S, and WIV1-Rs7327S at an MOI of 1.0, and were incubated for 1h at 37°C…
There is no question NIH funded research in Wuhan. There is no question at least one so funded research project involved modification of bat coronavirus. There is no question those modified viruses were tested on human ACE2 receptors.
Dr. Paul is not alone in his opinion that this is GoF research:
Dr. Roger Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University and biosafety expert… claims that the work being conducted at the WIV, using NIH funds originally granted to Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, “epitomizes” gain-of-function research under the definition HHS provided in its guidance, and is the exact kind of research that led the Obama administration to conclude that gain-of-function was too dangerous to continue domestically.
The only remaining questions, then, are the definition of the phrase “gain of function,” and the meaning of the word “we.” Dr. Fauci insisted “that paper” Rand used as his proof had been carefully examined “up and down the line” and it was not gain of function research. According to the NIH.
Dr. Fauci also added that it was biologically impossible for those particular viruses to be implicated in the pandemic. That last, of course, is irrelevant.
Under the Obama Administration gain of function research was paused using this definition:
Gain-of-function studies, or research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease,
help define the fundamental nature of human-pathogen interactions…
New USG funding will not be released for gain-of-function research projects that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route. The research funding pause would not apply to characterization or testing of naturally occurring influenza, MERS, and SARS viruses, unless the tests are reasonably anticipated to increase transmissibility and/or pathogenicity.
See also: The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? –Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. This is interesting for what is described in the title, but it also speaks directly to the funding question.
The media’s big mistake on the covid-19 ‘lab leak’ theory –Washington Post Even the WaPo is willing to consider what they once dismissed as a crazy conspiracy theory.
Fauci’s only other possible defense is that “we” (the NIH) were not doing the funding. As we’ve seen, Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded a at coronavirus study grant to the EcoHealth Alliance, which subcontracted the research to the Wuhan lab. Fauci insists that the money did not support gain of function research. But as Nicholas Wade points out, that is exactly what the Wuhan institute was doing. The grant proposals from Shi Zhengli — (aka “Bat Woman”) are a matter of public record. She said she planned to use the money for gain-of-function research.
Dr. Fauci claims that NIH “categorically did not fund” GoF research in Wuhan. But, he cannot know that. His boss is Dr. Francis Collins:
NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that researchers at the Wuhan lab “were not approved by NIH for doing “gain of function research” before adding “we are, of course, not aware of other sources of funds or other activities they might have undertaken outside of what our approved grant allowed.”
So “we” never approved it. And “we” didn’t monitor it. And “we’ve” never heard the word “fungible.”
And, it’s not as if Fauci never funded such research on other viruses. Here is a statement from NIH on gain of function signed by Dr. Fauci in early 2013. Emphasis mine:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has worked in a transparent and collaborative fashion to develop a framework for reviewing funding decisions regarding research that might increase mammalian transmission of HPAI H5N1 viruses by respiratory droplets.
Does Dr. Fauci have a different definition for each virus?
Here is further discussion from NIH on gain of function
Gain-of-Function Research Involving Potential Pandemic Pathogens
A definition used by the Obama Administration and another used by NIH seem to contradict whatever definition Fauci is using. One is left with the idea that the NIH created such a definition, after the fact, which has not been shared, to avoid their own oversight mechanism during the pause in funding. If Dr. Fauci wants us to believe him, he should point out exactly when and why an apparently much more complicated definition was created, and what precisely excludes the older definition from his own agency from applying. I believe he would be embarrassed by it, and that’s why we have not seen it.