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Fauci, Paul renew virus clash in Senate hearing

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-07-22 11:56
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File photo of Anthony Fauci. [Photo/Agencies]

Dr Anthony Fauci and US Senator Rand Paul have gone at it once again over the COVID-19 pandemic, with the former saying his adversary didn’t know what he was talking about.

Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is also an ophthalmologist, clashed over what is called "gain of function" research, in which a virus can be enhanced in a laboratory to study its transmissibility and how those findings could be used to produce future vaccines.

During their shouting match on Tuesday, Paul accused Fauci of having the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where Fauci is a physician, fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Two top scientists previously had said research did not occur at the lab.

Paul, 58, also said that Fauci, 80, lied to Congress, and later Tuesday said in an interview that he would send a letter to the US Department of Justice seeking a criminal referral against the chief White House medical adviser.

"Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11, where you claimed that the NIH never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan?" Paul asked at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing, as he cited a 2017 research report about the SARS virus.

Fauci replied: "This paper you’re referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain of function. … Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially. If anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.

"If you look at the viruses that were used in the experiments, that were given in the annual reports, that were published in the literature, it is molecularly impossible" that they resulted in SARS-CoV-2, Fauci said.

"Nobody is saying that those viruses caused the pandemic," Paul said, saying that he was asking about the research.

NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement earlier this year that "neither NIH nor NIAID have ever approved any grant that would have supported ‘gain-of-function’ research on coronaviruses that would have increased their transmissibility or lethality for humans".

In a June interview with The New York Times, Dr Shi Zhengli, a top virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, again denied that she conducted gain-of-function research on the coronavirus.

"My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses," she told the newspaper. "This is no longer a question of science. It is speculation rooted in utter distrust."

Virologist Danielle Anderson of Australia, the last and only foreign scientist who was in the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 Lab until November 2019, a couple of months before the COVID-19 outbreak, said in an interview last month with that she believes the novel coronavirus "was a natural acquired infection at some point somewhere".

Anderson said that because it took researchers almost a decade to pin down where in nature the SARS pathogen emerged, she said she was not surprised that the "smoking gun" bat responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t been discovered yet.

May Zhou in Houston contributed to this story.

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