Dr. Anthony Fauci backed experiments to make viruses more contagious and, in doing so, downplayed the risk of a pandemic from lab accidents, according to a report in an Australian newspaper.
The head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top adviser to the Biden administration on coronavirus issues made the comments in 2012 in support of “gain-of-function” research, which he called “important work.”
The Weekend Australian, in addition to unearthing Dr. Fauci’s 2012 remarks in the American Society for Microbiology, also reported Friday that he did not tell senior White House officials in 2017 about a ban on the controversial research being lifted.
“Gain-of-function” research refers to manipulating viruses to give them characteristics they do not have in nature — letting them gain a function — including greater contagiousness, lethality and hardiness.
The hope is that the research would let doctors anticipate the evolutionary “gain-of-function” changes that occur in nature and thus figure out how to counteract them ahead of time.
The research has long been understood as dangerous, and there are increasing suspicions that such experiments at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, may have caused the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide.
In his October 2012 piece in the microbiology journal, Dr. Fauci acknowledged the risks but said they are worth it.
“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, according to the Weekend Australian.
“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,” he concluded.
Dr. Fauci referred to the risk of a lab-leak pandemic with the phrase “however remote” and said that natural evolutionary changes in viruses pose the greater pandemic threat.
“It is 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,” he wrote.
At the time of Dr. Fauci’s paper, gain-of-function research on highly infectious influenza viruses was subject to a voluntary ban. The Obama administration put teeth into the pause in 2014 by barring funding for it in 22 fields, including influenza and related respiratory diseases such as SARS and MERS.
In that paper, Dr. Fauci called it “a valid 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.”
In the last several weeks, scientists have expressed increasing skepticism with communist China’s official account of COVID-19’s origins — a bat-flu virus that jumped to humans via a wet market in Wuhan.
The continued lack of confirmation, China’s secrecy, some inconvenient facts, and the absence of corroborating evidence of animal cases quickly found in the SARS and MERS outbreaks have hung heavier over an increasingly open scientific debate.
This month, Dr. Fauci reversed his position on whether COVID-19 had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), calling himself now “not convinced” the virus had developed naturally.
President Biden this week ordered a fresh U.S. intelligence inquiry into the virus’s origins.
Papers in scholarly journals as recently as last year indicate that researchers in the Wuhan lab had had their work on coronaviruses funded by at least three U.S. National Institutes of Health grants.
Dr. Fauci has said that the NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the WIV.”
In December 2017, NIH announced it would resume funding the gain-of-function research.
According to Friday’s report in the Weekend Australian, citing “multiple Trump administration officials,” that was done without Dr. Fauci notifying America’s political leadership.
“It kind of just got rammed through,” one official told the newspaper.
“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,” the official said.
Neither then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo nor National Security Council member Matthew Pottinger was briefed, the Weekend Australian reported.
According to the newspaper, Dr. Fauci did not respond to its requests for comment.