Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday admitted that COVID-19 could have originated in a lab in Wuhan, China — and acknowledged there should be further investigation into the possibility.
The nation’s top infectious-disease doc made the acknowledgment on Capitol Hill while getting grilled by US senators — including Republican Rand Paul, who heatedly butted heads with him over alleged government funding of the lab.
Fauci was flat-out asked by GOP Sen. Roger Marshall, a doctor from Kansas, “Do you think it’s possible that COVID-19 arose from a lab accident … in Wuhan, and should it be fully investigated?”
The National Institutes of Health official replied, “That possibility certainly exists, and I am totally in favor of a full investigation of whether that could have happened.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Rand Paul have previously gone toe-to-toe over COVID-19.AFP via Getty Images
Fauci had said a few months after the start of the pandemic that the deadly virus most likely “evolved in nature and then jumped species,’’ as opposed to being “artificially or deliberately manipulated.”
Earlier, Paul, of Kentucky, pressed Fauci over alleged US funding of the Chinese lab involving so-called “gain of function’’ research.
The research focuses on making a virus more potent in the laboratory as a way to produce better vaccines against it.
Sen. Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci again went back-and-forth on Tuesday.Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP
“Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely, entirely and completely incorrect … the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute,” Fauci said.
When Paul started to say, “Government scientists like yourself who favor gain function,’’ Fauci interrupted, “I don’t favor gain-of-function research in China.
“You are saying things that are not correct,” the doctor said.
In addition to the funding flap, Paul pressed Fauci over the potential link between the virus outbreak and the lab, too.
In March, the World Health Organization released a controversial report saying it is “extremely unlikely’’ that the pandemic was caused by a virus leak at the lab.
The WHO findings — which were criticized partly because they lacked potentially crucial data from a secretive Chinese government — said humans likely became infected through an animal that got the virus from bats.
Dr. Fauci said he would be in favor of an investigation to see if COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan, China.Greg Nash/AFP via Getty Images/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Fauci said at the time that he wanted to review the WHO’s raw data.
“I’d also would like to inquire as to the extent in which the people who were on that group had access directly to the data that they would need to make a determination,” he said. “I want to read the report first and then get a feel for what they really had access to — or did not have access to.”
Still, the same month, Fauci appeared to downplay comments by former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield that the coronavirus was created in the Wuhan lab, saying Redfield was simply expressing his “opinion” when he made the claim.