Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says he feels vindicated after the National Institutes of Health revealed that a “limited experiment” at the Wuhan lab in China involving mice equipped with human receptors found a virus engineered to carry spike proteins from coronaviruses was more virulent than ones without the special function.
Researchers at EcoHealth, who received U.S. funds, failed to report the findings right away as required by the terms of the grant, NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak told Rep. James Comer, a top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, this week.
The NIH said the result wasn’t something researchers set out to do, but Mr. Paul said it proves NIH has been downplaying and obfuscating the nature of U.S.-funded research at the lab as GOP lawmakers point to a potential lab leak as the source of the pandemic.
“If 5 million people died from a virus that came out of a lab — wouldn’t we want to know, wouldn’t we want to prevent this from happening again?” Mr. Paul told Fox News. “This virus is very deadly. What if we had a virus that had a 15% mortality rate?”
For months, Mr. Paul’s sparred with Dr. Anthony Fauci at NIH, saying the doctor misled committees by stating American tax dollars didn’t support gain-of-function research that makes viruses more virulent.
Mr. Paul says activity in Wuhan, where workers became sick on the cusp of the coronavirus outbreak in the same city, meets any definition of gain-of-function and the revelation proves it.
NIH Director Francis Collins told The Washington Post that EcoHealth “messed up” and there will be consequences, but the experiment did not rise to his definition of gain of function, and the virus under study is unrelated to the one causing the pandemic.
Mr. Paul accused the NIH of parsing words.
“[Dr. Fauci’s] declination is this: It’s inadvertent, we didn’t know they were going to gain function. That is what a gain-of-function experiment is. You don’t know when you combine two viruses that they will be more deadly, but it might be if you have half a brain you know if you combine two viruses it might be more deadly,” Mr. Paul said.
The senator said Congress and the scientific community need to urgently debate the merits of gain-of-function because the risks appear to far outweigh any scientific discoveries.
Former President Donald Trump and GOP allies have repeatedly pointed to a possible lab experiment and leak in Wuhan as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea was once ridiculed, though President Biden ordered intelligence agencies to review what’s known and determine whether the virus appeared from nature or leaked from a lab. The findings were inconclusive.
NIH told Mr. Comer they still believe the viruses studied under the EcoHealth grant are not linked to the coronavirus that caused the outbreak.
“It is important to state at the outset that published genomic data demonstrate that the bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant to EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., and subaward to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) are not and could not have become SARS-CoV-2,” Mr. Tabak wrote. “Both the progress report and the analysis attached here again confirm that conclusion, as the sequences of the viruses are genetically very distant.”
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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