Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), defended his agency’s decision of awarding millions of dollars to an organization that has funded risky virus research in Wuhan, China.
“If something is peer-reviewed, gets a high recommendation for funding, you can’t arbitrarily decide, ‘I just don’t want to fund it’ because people don’t like them,” Fauci said in an Oct. 4 virtual webinar hosted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism.
“If they ever brought that to court, they could sue us and win that in a microsecond. So you’ve got to be careful,” Fauci said earlier in the webinar.
Fending Off CriticismThe Wuhan facility, during the 2018 to 2019 grant period, conducted experiments that made bat coronaviruses more lethal, which some experts say met the definition of gain-of-function research—experiments that make a virus more deadly or infectious.
Asked why he was confident that “EcoHealth is a good funding partner” despite criticism about its lack of transparency over virus research, Fauci insisted that the two were separate matters.
“It’s kind of like saying that there is a grant from an institution in the United States, that something really bad about that grant, and therefore, you shouldn’t give any funding to any other element of that institution,” he said. “You’ve got to be fair, and you’ve got to go by process, not arbitrarily deciding whether you want to fund something or not.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, called it “madness.”
“EcoHealth Alliance and Peter Daszak should not be getting a dime of taxpayer funds until they are completely transparent. Period,” she said in a statement.
Lab Leak TheoryEmails show that Fauci had sought to play down the lab leak theory in the early period of the pandemic. In April 2020, he told then-NIH director Francis Collins that the hypothesis is “a shiny object” that would go away in time.
At the event, Fauci stood by his comments in the email, saying that he didn’t think he misjudged the public’s ongoing interest in the lab leak theory.
“There’s always the concern, and I have kept a completely open mind about the possibility that there may have been a lab leak,” but the “lab leak is a theory with no evidence whatsoever,” he said.
Fauci cited an article, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” published in March 2020 that argued in favor of a natural origin of COVID-19.
“I was part of the group that called together a bunch of experienced evolutionary virologists to seriously look at that,” he said. “They went over the epidemiological, the virological data, and they published in the peer review high ranked journals their conclusion that it is most likely a natural occurrence.”
Prior to the release of the paper, email communications between Fauci and Kristian Andersen, lead author of the paper, showed that Andersen had observed some unusual features making up the virus that causes COVID-19.
“One has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered,” he told Fauci in an email on Jan. 31, 2020, a day before he and Fauci joined a conference call about the paper.