Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of 27 institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), admitted to a House Appropriations subcommittee that the NIH funded $600,000 to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to investigate prior to the COVID-19 outbreak how bat viruses can be transmitted to humans.
The laboratory in Wuhan is one of the possible foci of contagion where COVID-19 could have originated. In recent weeks, various journalistic and scientific papers relayed plausible theories that the coronavirus, first detected in Wuhan, may have accidentally emerged from a laboratory experiment.
In 2017, American officials visiting WIV sent diplomatic cables warning that a series of dangerous research with bat coronaviruses was carried out at the Institute of Virology, including the controversial “gain of function,” an experiment that involves genetically boosting a virus by making it more transmissible. The aim of this practice is to study and analyze how the virus evolves and affects humanized guinea pigs.
It is like “taking a virus that could infect humans and making it either more transmissible and/or pathogenic for humans,” as described by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who denied any NIH link to this gain-of-function experiment. “That categorically was not done,” Fauci insisted.
According to these diplomatic cables, exposed at the time by The Washington Post‘s Josh Rogin, the WIV is a lab that lacks the biosafety requirements and standards to conduct experiments as risky as a gain-of-function. On Monday, May 24, The Wall Street Journal revealed that three scientists who worked regularly at the Wuhan lab were infected in November 2019 with a virus with symptoms similar to COVID-19 and required hospitalization. Whether it was seasonal flu or COVID-19 is not yet known, and can hardly be determined.
Fauci justifies the $600,000 NIH gave to Wuhan Institute of Virology
Speaking before the House subcommittee, Fauci explained that the $600,000 was given to WIV through the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance. The White House principal investigator for COVID-19 referred to the $600,000 as “a modest collaboration with very respectable Chinese scientists who were world experts on coronaviruses.”
Last year, in April, the NIH cut off funding to EcoHealth Alliance. However, a few months later, in August, the NIH awarded a $7.5 million grant over five years to EcoHealth Alliance, according to NPR.
Dr. Fauci, in addition to acknowledging the funding, said such research was needed after the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.
“We had a big scare with SARS-CoV-1 [SARS] back in 2002, 2003 where that particular virus unquestionably went from a bat to an intermediate host to start an epidemic and a pandemic that resulted in 8,000 cases and close to 800 deaths,” Fauci said. “It would have been almost a dereliction of our duty if we didn’t study this, and the only way you can study these things is you’ve got to go where the action is.”
Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) have in recent weeks pressed Dr. Fauci on NIH funding to WIV, asserting that possibly the money could have been used for a gain of function.