White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul exchanged blows at a Senate hearing Thursday over Paul’s claims that the National Institutes of Health supported gain of function research in Wuhan, China.
Paul called on Fauci to resign, accusing the NIH of funding research in Wuhan that involved experimenting on existing pathogens to make them more contagious in hopes of understanding future infectious diseases. Fauci called Paul’s line of questioning an “egregious misrepresentation” and pushed back on the theory that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory.
“It makes me very uncomfortable to have to say something, but he is egregiously incorrect in what he says,” Fauci said of Paul.
Fauci and Paul, the Republican junior senator from Kentucky, have clashed repeatedly during past Senate hearings. Paul previously accused Fauci of lying to Congress about gain of function research during a hearing on July 20.
Paul on Thursday claimed that the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that received funding from the NIH, engineered a disease that doesn’t exist in nature by combining viruses in a lab. Fauci responded that Paul’s accusations did not meet NIH’s definition for gain of function research, adding that he disagreed with Paul’s assertion that the coronavirus first leaked from a lab in 2019.
“No one is alleging that the published viruses by the Chinese are Covid,” Paul said. “What we are saying is that this was 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 claimed the definition of gain of function research had changed on NIH’s website, but Fauci said the definition used by the agency was developed over the course of more than two years before being formalized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in January of 2017.
“You won’t admit that it’s dangerous, and for that lack of judgement, I think it’s time that you resign,” Paul said.
The National Intelligence Council released an assessment last month on Covid-19, reporting that the intelligence community “remains divided on the most likely origin” of the virus. U.S. intelligence agencies are weighing two possibilities, the report said: “natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”
The report also ruled out China creating Covid as a biological weapon, adding that the Chinese government “probably did not have foreknowledge” of the virus before the Wuhan Institute of Virology started isolating cases. But to reach a formal conclusion on Covid’s origins, researchers wrote that they would need “greater transparency and collaboration from Beijing.”
“Even though we leave open all possibilities, it’s much more likely that this was a natural occurrence,” Fauci said.