Antony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President of USA, is under attack by Republicans yet again. This time, he is being called the father of the actual virus, referring to coronavirus. Some publications also claimed that Fauci had bypassed rules to fund bat research in Wuhan Lab. Here is a fact check.
Various reports including the one published in The Daily Signal stated that Wuhan Lab was funded by the EcoHealth Alliance, a global non-profit scientific research centre through Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease [NAID], headed by Fauci. EcoHealth is known for researches into the critical connections between human, animal and environmental health. The report also stated that fund was granted without proper review and that the funding also covered gain of function research on a bat coronavirus, which might have created SARS-CoV-2.
The Daily Signal news portal said: "The Wuhan Institute of Virology is at the center of widespread speculation that COVID-19 could have accidentally leaked from a lab into the human population. EcoHealth's grant to study bat-based coronaviruses in China included the transfer of $600,000 to the institute."
"Had EcoHealth's grant been subjected to Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight review, an Health and Human Services [HHS] panel would have independently evaluated the grant. If necessary, the HHS panel would have recommended additional biocontainment measures to prevent potential lab leaks—or even recommended that the grant be denied entirely."
In 2014, the U.S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease [NAID], headed by Fauci, had awarded $3.4 million grant to EcoHealth Alliance. The EcoHealth group hired the virology lab in Wuhan to conduct analysis of bat coronavirus. They started studying the coronavirus collected from bats in Yunnan province in Wuhan, China.
The Statesman claimed that EcoHealth paid this lab $598,500 over five years. It is to be noted that this lab had got an approval for research from both the US State Department and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). So the claim that the fund was allocated without approval is not true.
Let us look into another claim of the fund being used for gain-of function research. Gain-of-function research means enhancing or boosting the infectivity and lethality of pathogen. It is true that Fauci had advocated for gain-of-function research in the past because the study helps researches to find potential threats to human health, thus helping researches find a solution to tackle the problem.
But this kind of research also can also be dangerous as it might lead to mutations that would increase the pathogenicity, transmissibility, and antigenicity of the viruses. However, this does not have anything to do with the research funded by EcoHealth Alliance.
Speaking to The Statesman, NIH said that gain-of-function research was not involved. "The research supported under the grant to EcoHealth Alliance Inc. characterized the function of newly discovered bat spike proteins and naturally occurring pathogens and did not involve the enhancement of the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the viruses studied."
Both the NIH and EcoHealth Alliance have stated that grants to Wuhan lab were not allocated to gain-of-function research. Even when grants to EcoHealth Alliance was terminated in 2014 citing safety and security risks, it was reviewed by NIH. The agency ruled that this research did not involve gain-of-function research. Thus the fund was reinstated. Similar trend followed last year and the grant was terminated again on April 24, 2020 only to be reinstated on July 8, 2020.
A study on coronavirus conducted by five researches in March had stated that ability of the virus to affect human cells is likely the result of natural selection in an animal host or in humans as there the genetic makeup of viruses did not show any signs of altercation.
MIT biologist Kevin Esvelt reviewed a paper on coronavirus research and stated that the methods used by the EcoHealth Alliance funded research somewhat met the definition of gain-of-function. But speaking to PolitiFact, he clarified that the genetic sequences used for study in the research paper were different from new coronavirus. Thus, "The work reported in this specific paper definitely did not lead to the creation of SARS-CoV-2," Esvelt said.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the NIH have stated that coronavirus was not derived from a lab. Even in terms of funding, the lab was not only funded by the U.S. government. The European Union also had provided grants to Wuhan lab since 2015, reported Reuters.
Antony Fauci did not bypass any rules in granting funds to EcoHealth Alliance. Moreover, there is no proof that the virus originated in the lab. Also, there is no proof for claims that EcoHealth grant was involved in gain-of-function research.