"I Have No Responsibility": Fauci Slams Rand Paul's Blaming of Him for COVID's Origin

Infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci declared, "I have no responsibility," after Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blamed him for having a hand in COVID-19's origin during a contentious Thursday hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Their exchange began as Paul accused Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), of funding gain of function (GoF) research. In October 2014, the U.S. government banned federal agencies from funding such research.

Fauci has denied that NIAID ever funded GoF research. However, he has also said he can't be absolutely certain labs haven't lied about using NIAID funds for such research.

"Your persistent denials, though, are not simply a stain on your reputation, but are clear and present danger to the country and to the world," Paul told Fauci. "And here you sit. unwilling to accept any responsibility for the current pandemic, and unwilling to take any steps to prevent gain of function research from possibly unleashing an even more deadly virus."

Fauci Rand Paul COVID-19 origin hearing
Infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci declared, "I have no responsibility," after Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blamed him for having a hand in COVID-19's origin during a contentious Thursday hearing. Above, Fauci responds to accusations by Paul as he testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on July 20 on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite/Getty

Fauci countered by saying that the NIAID hasn't funded anything that fits the U.S. government's definition of GoF research.

Paul responded by stating that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, of which the NIAID falls under, recently removed a section defining GoF research as "a type of research that modifies a biological agent so that it confers new or enhanced activity to that agent."

On October 20, the NIH removed that section and replaced it with one that discusses "enhanced potential pandemic pathogen" research. This research, referred to as P3CO, is defined as "research that may be reasonably anticipated to create, transfer or use potential pandemic pathogens resulting from the enhancement of a pathogen's transmissibility and/or virulence in humans."

Paul accused Fauci and the NIH of "defining away gain of function ... saying it doesn't exist because you change the definition ... What you've done is change the definition on your website to try to cover your ass."

Paul also said that a "preponderance of evidence" now points towards COVID-19 emerging from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). But thus far, no concrete evidence has shown that the virus actually emerged from the WIV lab.

When given time to speak, Fauci said, "There were so many things that are egregious misrepresentation here ... that I don't think I'd be able to refute all of them."

Fauci then said, "I'm unwilling to take any responsibility for the current pandemic. I have no responsibility for the current pandemic."

Fauci added that "most card-carrying viral phylogeneticists and molecular virologists would disagree with" Paul's assertion that COVID-19 came from the WIV lab. "It's much more likely that this was a natural occurrence," Fauci said.

Paul's assertions came in part because of recently revealed email correspondence between EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) and the NIH, discussing the EHA's virus research funded by the NIH.

The EHA has spent years researching bat coronaviruses with the WIV, the Chinese laboratory in the city where the first COVID cases emerged.

The WIV conducted GoF experiments to understand how animals can transmit new viruses to humans. Fauci said that such research is necessary to prevent future pandemics.

A May 2016 email from the NIH expressed concern that an EHA study on
MERS or SARS viruses might include GoF research. The study commenced with NIH funding at the WIV after the EHA said that it wouldn't violate the government's ban on GoF.

Last month, the NIH accused EHA of failing to uphold its side of the bargain when viral growth was observed in 2018 but was not reported by the organization. EHA has denied that this was the case and has claimed it did disclose the finding.

He said that the purpose of the study was to see if the bat viruses would be able to infect mice despite EHA believing it to be "highly unlikely."

Paul said in his Thursday questioning that he wasn't accusing the NIH of creating COVID-19, but rather was worried that its funding of GoF research could contribute to a deadlier pandemic in the future.

Newsweek contacted the NIAID for comment.