Hours after clashing with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at a Senate hearing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called Paul’s claim that the National Institutes of Health had funded “gain-of-function research” in Wuhan “preposterous” in an interview with PolitiFact.
The dispute arose after Paul asked Fauci during a Senate health committee hearing whether he supports funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology, prefacing his question with the claim that the NIH had funded gain-of-function research at the lab.
Gain-of-function refers to the controversial research technique in which scientists modify a virus or pathogen to make it more dangerous in order to better study it. Some have theorized that the pandemic started after the coronavirus accidentally escaped from a lab; a joint World Health Organization and China report released in February has called the theory “extremely unlikely.”
Fauci told Paul at the hearing that the senator was “entirely and completely incorrect” as the NIH has never funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.
Fauci reiterated his stance Tuesday afternoon during a conversation with PolitiFact’s Katie Sanders as part of the United Facts of America: A Festival of Fact-Checking.
“That’s actually preposterous,” Fauci said. “It was just unfortunate that he said that. It was said in an accusatory way that just made no sense and was not based on any fact at all.”
After the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak caused by the SARS-CoV-1 virus, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — of which Fauci is the head — funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology through the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance. Paul had conflated that research with the lab leak theory, Fauci said.
“In a very minor collaboration, as part of a subcontract of a grant, we had a collaboration with some Chinese scientists,” Fauci said. “He conflated that … therefore we were involved in creating the virus, which is the most ridiculous, majestic leap I’ve ever heard of.”
The WHO-China report concluded that the virus likely originated in bats and was passed to people through an intermediate animal. But some experts, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, are calling for further investigation into the lab leak theory.
Fauci said Tuesday that he supports any investigation into the origin of the virus.
“I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened.”