Did Fauci mislead Congress? NIH letter deepens concerns.

“‘ “I told you so” doesn’t begin to describe it”, tweeted Rand Paul, GOP senator.

In a heated exchange this summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci accused the Kentucky senator of being evasive with Congress regarding whether U.S. tax dollars were used for risky coronavirus research at Wuhan in China.

Why This

Was Written

A lack of transparency in the public health system has undermined confidence in scientists and officials responsible for managing this pandemic as well as trying to predict future outbreaks.

Dr. Fauci was unequivocal: “The NIH [National Institutes of Health] has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”

NIH still maintains that position. But in a letter to Congress this week, the agency admitted that U.S.-funded work in Wuhan from 2018-19 produced “unexpected” results that the grant recipient, EcoHealth Alliance, should have reported immediately. It did not report the results until August this year.

The published research involved genetically distinct viruses from the ones that caused the pandemic. Critics point out a lack in transparency and oversight that led to the publication of experiments that involved viruses genetically distant from the one responsible for the current pandemic. This undermines the public’s trust in scientists and officials who are charged with understanding and communicating the risks and helping prevent them.

“The type of research that could have created COVID-19 – that type of research was occurring,” says Senator Paul.

Washington

” “I told you so” doesn’t begin to address it,” said GOP Senator Rand Paul.

In a heated exchange this summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci accused the Kentucky senator of lying to Congress regarding whether U.S. tax dollars were used for risky coronavirus research conducted in Wuhan (China).

“The NIH [*] has never funded gain-of function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” replied a clearly disturbed Dr. Fauci.

Why This

Was Written

A lack of transparency in the public health system has undermined confidence in scientists and officials responsible for managing this pandemic as well as trying to predict future outbreaks.

The issue at hand was the research of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based organisation. EcoHealth, along with partners from China, has been working extensively to identify bat coronaviruses which could spread into people. This was in the hope that this work would help scientists prevent pandemics. Dr. Fauci has long been a proponent of such research, and EcoHealth funneled at least $600,000 of NIH grant money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to carry out this research since 2014. Many scientists consider such research unnecessary risky. This is especially true when it’s done in foreign laboratories that do not have the same reporting and safety requirements as the U.S. . However, this week the NIH revealed that U.S.-funded research produced unexpected results. In a letter addressed to Republican legislators, the agency claimed it was innocent of any wrongdoing. But it blamed EcoHealth Alliance for failing to immediately report back when a bat coronavirus it was tinkering with started killing humanized mice at an unusually high rate during the fifth and final year of its grant in 2018-19. EcoHealth submitted its progress report regarding that research on August 3. The Monitor was informed by the NIH that it had requested the late report in July. EcoHealth Alliance stated it is working with NIH on a “misconception” about the research it has done and its reporting requirements. The NIH letter raises concerns over funding and oversight for this type of risky research. The data published by EcoHealth involve viruses genetically distant from the one that causes COVID-19, and no one is pointing to those viruses as the cause of the pandemic. Critics say that the EcoHealth letter, two years after a pandemic that caused millions of deaths and extensive economic damage has revealed a lack in transparency. This undermines the public’s trust in scientists and officials who are responsible for understanding and communicating current and future pandemic risk.

Visko Hatf/National Geographic/AP/File

Dr. Anthony Fauci does an interview with National Geographic at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, during the filming of the documentary “Fauci,” in June 2021.

The NIH stands by the statements of NIH Director Francis Collins, who will be stepping down at the end of the year, and Dr. Fauci, who oversees the NIH institute that deals with infectious diseases. Even with the updated information, Dr. Fauci may still be able to argue that his statements are accurate. This is according to the definition NIH uses in determining whether research on risky viruses merits further review. GOP legislators claim that the documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The Intercept and reveal more information than any official had previously disclosed to Congress.

” We now know that Dr. Fauci has been lying to Americans for many months,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (the leading Republican member on the House Energy & Commerce Committee) said in a statement to The Monitor. A bipartisan probe is needed, she said. It is clear that there have been significant failings by the NIH in overseeing grant funding. EcoHealth Alliance has violated their grant terms and refused to work with NIH. Yet, NIH continues funding EcoHealth Alliance. This a serious breakdown of trust, accountability, and transparency.”

A spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee run by Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, when asked whether it would hold hearings on the risks, review, and oversight of U.S.-funded gain of function research, replied: “The Committee is focused on expanding the vaccination program, continuing mitigation efforts, saving lives, and finally bringing an end to this terrible pandemic.”

“Unnecessarily risky experiments”

Representative McMorris Rodgers, one of the leading Republicans pressing the NIH and other government agencies for detailed answers over the past year, said that the documents released “show that NIH was in fact funding gain of function research in China through EcoHealth Alliance.” But NIH rejects that characterization.

Part of the issue is that scientists don’t agree on what “gain of function” means, or the risks involved, which led to a 2014-17 moratorium on such research involving certain viruses.

When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lifted the moratorium and issued new guidelines, it focused on “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens.” HHS established a review process for grant proposals that could be “reasonably anticipated” to involve those pathogens, but left it up to individual funding agencies like NIH to determine which proposals to flag for review. In a statement made to the Monitor by the NIH, the NIH stated that EcoHealth Alliance’s grant application, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” wasn’t flagged for review. This was despite the fact that EcoHealth’s unexpected findings in the Aug. 3 Progress Report had been disclosed beforehand. Because the virus they were studying wasn’t yet known to cause infection in humans, and because it was not expected that the results of the research would make the virus more dangerous to people.

The NIH letter to Congress, written by principal deputy director Lawrence Tabak, downplayed what he called a “limited experiment” that was in no way linked to the outbreak of COVID-19. EcoHealth Alliance stated that it is working with the NIH “to promptly address what I believe to be a misinterpretation about the grant’s reporting requirements, and the results of our research.” These data were reported as soon as we were made aware, in our year 4 report in April 2018. NIH reviewed those data and did not indicate that secondary review of our research was required, in fact year 5 funding was allowed to progress without delay.” The August 2021 report included significantly more detailed research results, however.

David Relman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University and one of the leading voices for the 2014 moratorium, says the term “gain of function” has a complicated and confusing history and usage.

“I propose we stop using this term. Instead, we should talk about “unusually and unnecessarily dangerous experiments” he stated in an email comment. He said that this research falls under that category, which results in increased pathogenicity for an already deadly agent. “I personally would not have undertaken these experiments, and would have advised NIH not to have funded them, despite the worthiness of the questions they sought to address.”

“Political witch hunt” no excuse for lack of transparency

Indeed, the purpose of gain of function research is well-intentioned, says Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican pressing the government for answers. He says it’s not as though Dr. Fauci and EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak wanted to create the next pandemic.

But he states that the reason they are unwilling to disclose to Congress is because their good intentions to stop a pandemic from happening was that their efforts to do so were not transparent.

“”They’re lying to themselves – but don’t like to admit it,” Daszak says.

He demands total transparency. This includes releasing all documents related to EcoHealth or other organisations doing virus research. The Biden administration should also release all intelligence regarding the outbreak of coronavirus. He believes it is “eminently reasonable” for taxpayer funds to gain of function research to be stopped pending an investigation into the source of the pandemic, including whether it was caused by a laboratory leak. USAID recently announced another $125 million to detect viruses with pandemic potential.

Representative Gallagher, Senator Paul, and other critics acknowledge that the viruses detailed in the new NIH documents are substantially different from the one that causes COVID-19, and thus is not direct proof of the lab leak hypothesis.

A U.S. intelligence community review this summer about COVID-19’s origin proved inconclusive, and many scientists including Dr. Collins still favor the theory that the virus evolved in nature. Others see another explanation in the documents: lax oversight, a failure to comply with grant guidelines.

“The type of research that could have created COVID-19 – that type of research was occurring,” says Senator Paul. Is it possible that some of the Chinese researchers may not have been as forthright and didn’t tell us about any other viruses in their laboratory ?On June 3, Senator Paul wrote Gary Peters, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee to request hearings regarding the health and security risks associated with such research. A brief interview was conducted by Senator Peters (a Michigan Democrat) Thursday. He said that he didn’t know about the NIH letters. Follow-up questions with links to his letter were not answered by his staff.

Angela Rasmussen is a University of Saskatchewan virusologist. She has been a vocal critic of the laboratory leak theory and has defend EcoHealth Alliance’s mission, saying they were unfairly criticised. She is now calling on EcoHealth Alliance [EHA],, which has received funding from several U.S. agencies to proactively disclose all of its data, not only what NIH wants.

” Unmitigated transparency is the only way forward. Although I find it unacceptable that this political witch hunt has been enacted, it doesn’t exempt the duty to the public who has paid most of EHA’s work through USAID, NIH & DoD.” she said in a tweet thread. Dr. Rasmussen stated that hoarding taxpayer-funded data doesn’t improve pandemic readiness and harms the entire profession. Let go of the data, and you will be free. This is the best way

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