In a sensational disclosure, it has been revealed that Dr Anthony Fauci, the top medical advisor to the United States, had strongly supported experimenting on contagious viruses and believed that manipulating and heightening their infectious potency weighed more than the risk of a laboratory accident sparking a pandemic, reports The Australian.
According to the reports, Dr Fauci had previously supported the contentious experiments calling them “important work,” despite apprehensions that such experiments may cause risks of lab leaks and lead to a major public health crisis, just as it is alleged to have happened in the case of Covid-19.
EXCLUSIVE: Anthony Fauci argued the benefits of gain-of-function research was worth the risk of a laboratory accident sparking a pandemic. https://t.co/TPPmeHNjBL— Sharri Markson (@SharriMarkson) May 28, 2021
An investigation carried out by The Weekend Australian has also confirmed Dr Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, failed to alert senior White House officials before lifting the ban on such “gain-of-function” research in 2017.
Wuhan lab was conducting research to enhance the ability of coronavirus with US funds: Reports
A multinational group of 15 scientists working at the Wuhan Institute had received $600,000 of US public funds between 2015 and 2020 to investigate whether coronaviruses posed a risk to humans. The National Institutes of Health, under which the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases functions, had reportedly funded coronavirus experiments in Wuhan, China, in the years leading up to the pandemic.
In his research paper written in the American Society for Microbiology in October 2012, Dr Fauci had acknowledged the controversial scientific research could spark a pandemic.
“In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic?” he wrote.
Continuing, Fauci had stated, “Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision? Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.”
Further, defending such experiments, Fauci had written saying that it was more likely that a pandemic would occur in nature, and the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.
In the paper, Dr. Fauci also wrote, “Within the research community, many have expressed concern that important research progress could come to a halt just because of the fear that someone, somewhere, might attempt to replicate these experiments sloppily. This is a valid concern.”
The “gain-of-function” experiments, often carried out on bat-derived coronaviruses, revolves around manipulating, splicing, and recombining viruses to potentially obtain strains of highly infectious pathogens resistant to current treatment methods.
However, this type of research carries the risk of causing a pandemic. In 2014, realizing the danger, the Obama administration had seized all the funding for such ‘gain-of-function experiments’ in 22 fields, including those involving SARS, influenza, and MERS.
Virologists need to respect genuine concerns: wrote Dr Fauci
In his paper, Dr. Fauci also wrote that virologists needed to respect that there are genuine and legitimate concerns about this type of research, both domestically and globally.
“Putting aside the specter of bioterrorism for the moment, consider this hypothetical scenario: an important gain-of-function experiment involving a virus with serious pandemic potential is performed in a well-regulated, world-class laboratory by experienced investigators, but the information from the experiment is then used by another scientist who does not have the same training and facilities and is not subject to the same regulations,” he wrote.
“We cannot expect those who have these concerns to simply take us, the scientific community, at our word that the benefits of this work outweigh the risks, nor can we ignore their calls for greater transparency, their concerns about conflicts of interest, and their efforts to engage in a dialogue about whether these experiments should have been performed in the first place,” Dr Fauci wrote.
Dr Fauci had added, “Those of us in the scientific community who believe in the merits of this work have the responsibility to address these concerns thoughtfully and respectfully.”
“If we want to continue this important work, we collectively need to do a better job of articulating the scientific rationale for such experiments well before they are performed and provide discussion about the potential risk to public health, however remote,” he wrote in 2012.
Experts had opposed such experiments
In 2014, two years after Dr Fauci’s paper, prominent scientists, including the Cambridge Working Group of 200 researchers, had issued a public warning against funding such ‘gain of function’ research.
“Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns,” the group’s letter read, adding that laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses, especially but not limited to influenza, poses substantially increased risks.
The letter read, “An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control. Historically, new strains of influenza, once they establish transmission in the human population, have infected a quarter or more of the world’s population within two years.”
In 2015, Steven Salzberg of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the benefits of gain-of-function research were “minimal at best” and can be achieved far more safely through other avenues of research.
“I am very concerned that the continuing gain-of-function research on influenza viruses, and more recently on other viruses, present extremely serious risks to the public health,” he wrote.
Dr Fauci had resumed his coronavirus research, kept Trump administration in dark
In December 2017, the National Institute of Health, of which the NIAID is a part, announced that it would resume funding the “gain-of-function” research in Wuhan Institute of Virology.
However, the NIH did not communicate the same to the Trump administration and instead kept the administration in the dark. Officials who worked in the Trump administration have disclosed that Dr Fauci had not raised the issue of restarting the research funding with senior figures in the White House.
“I think there’s truth in the narrative that the (National Security Council) staff, the president, the White House chief-of-staff, those people were in the dark that he was switching back on the research,” said an official.
Neither Mike Pompeo, the then director of the Central Intelligence Agency nor National Security Council member Matthew Pottinger were briefed by Dr. Fauci and his team concerning the resumption of “gain-of-function” experiments in Wuhan, as per the report in The Australian.
Fauci’s role in funding dangerous experiments in China under scrutiny
Dr Fauci, who has led the US response to the outbreak, is currently facing serious questions about his role in funding the radical experiments that were being conducted inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Until recently, Fauci said it is “highly likely” that the coronavirus has a natural origin. Fauci has since publicly shifted his tone, acknowledging in recent days that the virus may indeed have come from a lab.
On May 11, Fauci reversed his position on whether Covid-19 had leaked from the WIV and said he was now “not convinced” the virus had developed naturally and authorities needed to find out “exactly what happened.”
Meanwhile, the NIH has also come under significant criticism in recent weeks over funding WIV research relating to such “gain-on-function” experiments. Dr Fauci had denied carrying out such research inside WIV. Earlier this month, he told a US Senate hearing that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the WIV.”
However, research papers that were published last year in American peer-reviewed academic journals, written by the likes of prominent virologist Shi Zhengli, had disclosed that work on coronaviruses had been funded by at least three NIH grants.
At the time of Dr. Fauci’s research paper, there was a voluntary ban on “gain-of-function” research related to highly infectious influenza viruses. He had also asked what would happen if the experiments were conducted by the lab not subject to adequate safety regulations.
Earlier, it was revealed that Peter Daszak, a leading scientist whose organization EcoHealth Alliance had funded the coronavirus research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, had thanked Dr Anthony Fauci for downplaying the theory the coronavirus may have leaked from a lab.
Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a research group that secured a grant to perform coronavirus research in Wuhan before the pandemic, had written a mail to Dr Fauci to say a “personal thank you” on behalf of his staff and collaborators after the latter had dismissed the idea that the pandemic started due to a lab accident in Wuhan.
The exchange between Daszak and Fauci was part of more than 3,200 pages of Fauci’s emails that media outlets obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and posted online on Tuesday.