In the latest installment of “Dr. Fauci Does Not Have Time For Rand Paul’s B.S.,” the famed immunologist sparred with the Republican senator from Kentucky over the origins of COVID-19. (We’ll give you one guess as to who won.)
During a congressional hearing meant to assess the country’s response to the pandemic, Paul attacked Dr. Fauci’s credibility, trying to inadvertently place blame for the pandemic on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) while also entertaining some popular far-right conspiracy theories related to the virus. Paul claimed that Fauci and the NIH allotted grants that funded “gain of function” research that may have been responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Gain of function” research is a fairly controversial form of scientific study that basically increases the lethality and infectious nature of a pathogen so that scientists can study how it affects people and craft countermeasures against it. Recently, it was discovered that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab near the site where the first coronavirus cases were reported, had been conducting “gain of function” research using bat-originated coronaviruses. This does not mean that the virus leaked from the lab — either accidentally or on purpose. Like pretty much every other outbreak in history, COVID-19 is probably the result of the virus being passed from animal-to-human contact. Still, the news that a Wuhan lab had been experimenting with coronaviruses before one of the deadliest pandemics in history shut down the world for over a year is a good enough thread for Paul to link COVID-19 to Dr. Fauci.
Paul accused Fauci of funding research into coronaviruses in China, asking him to comment on whether he still supported NIH funding of “gain of function” research in Wuhan and Fauci — as politely as he could while trying to educate the conspiracy-mongering permed-poodle — shut down whatever it is Paul was trying to pin on him.
"We have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. No matter how many times you say it, it didn't happen." — Fauci to Rand Paul pic.twitter.com/f0kMzGeP1B
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 11, 2021
“With all due respect, you are entirely and completely incorrect,” Fauci told Paul. “The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” Fauci also clarified Paul’s misinformation on a grant the NIH did give to a group called EcoHealth Alliance, which did do research on the coronavirus in bats after the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, though it was not “gain of function” research.
“Let me explain to you why that was done,” Fauci continued. “The SARS COV-1 originated in bats in China. It would have been irresponsible of us if we did not investigate the bat viruses and the serology to see who might have been infected. If you look at the grant and if you look at the progress reports, it is not gain-of-function, despite the fact that people tweet that and write about it.”
While Paul was trying to stir up suspicion and distrust in government scientists who have been leading the charge to find an answer to this deadly virus, Fauci was transparent about his frustrations with the lack of transparency from China and the need to investigate the origins of the virus. So yes, we should all be thinking seriously about “gain of function” research and trying to figure out where COVID-19 came from so we can anticipate the next outbreak… but no one should be getting their facts from an ophthalmologist, who thinks mask-wearing is just a thing people do for dramatic effect and that herd immunity is equal to a 22% infection rate.