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Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciUK study: Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines offer protection against Delta variant The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Delta variant's UK dominance sparks concerns in US MORE on Tuesday clashed with Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' GOP's attacks on Fauci at center of pandemic message Fox host claims Fauci lied to Congress, calls for prosecution MORE (R-Ky.) over the role of the Wuhan, China, virology lab in the origins of COVID-19.

During a Senate hearing on the pandemic response, Paul alleged that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had been sending funding to the Wuhan lab, which then "juiced up" a virus that was originally found in bats to create a supervirus that can infect human cells. 

Paul pressed Fauci on the theory that the novel coronavirus was created in the Wuhan lab, and then somehow escaped, either because of an accident or because it was deliberately released.

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"Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely, entirely and completely incorrect," Fauci said. "The NIH has not ever, and does not now, fund 'gain of function research' in the Wuhan Institute."

Paul continued to argue with Fauci, who is the director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), accusing him of cooperating with the Chinese government, and supporting the laboratory that bioengineered a deadly virus. 

Fauci noted that although the NIH did fund a project at the Wuhan lab, it was not meant for "gain of function" research into human-made superviruses.

The NIH gave a grant to a group called EcoHealth Alliance, which hired the virology lab in Wuhan to conduct genetic analyses of bat coronaviruses and examine how they spread to humans. The Trump administration last year forced the NIH to terminate the grant. 

The false link between Fauci, the NIH and the Wuhan lab has been circulating among right-wing media and politicians like Paul and Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonHillicon Valley: House targets tech giants with antitrust bills | Oversight chair presses JBS over payment to hackers | Trump spokesman to join tech company | YouTube suspends GOP senator YouTube suspends Ron Johnson for 7 days GOP senators introduce bill to make Iran deal subject to Senate approval MORE (R-Wis.) for months. 

"Let me explain to you why that was done, 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," Fauci said.

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Gain of function research is a controversial form of study that involves boosting the infectivity and lethality of a pathogen. Fauci has advocated for the research in the past, but he denied that the NIH was funding it in China. 

But Paul interrupted him, and hinted that not only was the virus introduced to the world because of a lab accident, it was also biologically engineered. 

"Government scientists like yourself who favor gain function … ” Paul said.

I don’t favor gain of function research in China and you are saying things that are not correct,” Fauci interrupted.

The White House said it believes that China has "not been transparent" in releasing its findings on the origins of COVID-19, and the World Health Organization was severely limited in its investigation. 

Fauci said he supports further investigation into the origin of the virus, but denied the NIH had any role in funding controversial research.

"I do not have any accounting of what the Chinese may have done, and I'm fully in favor of any further investigation of what went on in China," Fauci said."However, I will repeat again, the NIH and NIAID categorically has not funded gain of function research to be conducted in the Wuhan Institute."

Paul, a libertarian ophthalmologist, has clashed repeatedly with Fauci throughout the pandemic on a wide range of topics including the idea of herd immunity and the effectiveness of restrictions.