Fauci once urged scientists to stop enhancing the Flu virus, although he supported their research
Eleanor Bartow, DCNF
- Dr. Anthony Fauci urged scientists to voluntarily stop research that created a deadlier form of the flu in 2012, the New York Times reported at the time.
- The manmade, more contagious form of the flu “sparked intense public fears that the deadly virus could accidentally leak out of a laboratory, or be stolen by terrorists, and result in a devastating pandemic,” the Times reported in 2012.
- Scientific research that enhances the lethality and transmission of dangerous viruses, called gain of function, has received new attention as officials and scientists have suggested that SARS‑CoV‑2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have leaked from a Wuhan Institute of Virology lab in China.
When scientists made a deadly flu virus more contagious in 2012 using funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci “said that he had never seen the scientific world so polarized,” New York Times reported at the time, and urged researchers to voluntarily pause their work.
Fauci told the Times in 2012 that “looming in the background” behind scientists was the fear that biosecurity experts could overreact and restrict virus research.
The manmade, more contagious form of the flu “sparked intense public fears that the deadly virus could accidentally leak out of a laboratory, or be stolen by terrorists, and result in a devastating pandemic,” the Times reported.
Fauci, then head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as he is now, thought the flu research should go forward, but with greater input on how, according to the Times.
“Dr. Fauci and others who support the research say it may help explain how flu viruses that start out in animals adapt to humans and become transmissible, and therefore able to cause pandemics,” the newspaper reported.
A month before the Times piece, in December 2011, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the journals Science and Nature to hold publication of two papers about the NIH-funded experiments, and the journals complied.
“The nearly unprecedented case of self-censorship has since been the hottest topic in science on both sides of the Atlantic,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
Scientific research that enhances the lethality and transmission of dangerous viruses, called gain of function, has received new attention as officials and scientists have suggested that SARS‑CoV‑2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have leaked from a Wuhan Institute of Virology lab in China.
Fauci’s 2012 comments preceded a ban on federal funding of such gain-of-function research from 2014 to 2017 due to widespread concerns it risked leaking dangerous viruses out of labs.
The federal funding resumed in late 2017 under the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) Framework, in which a board — anonymous except for its chairman — evaluates whether grants for research that involve enhancing dangerous pathogens are worth the risk.
The board did not review an NIH grant that funded research at the Wuhan lab on bat-based coronaviruses because it was not flagged as “gain of function” research.
"'We will never find the origins relying on..WHO,' said Lawrence Gostin..of the WHO Collaborating Center..at Georgetown University. 'For a year and a half, they have been stonewalled by China, and it’s very clear they won’t get to the bottom of it.'"https://t.co/ozSaCgzzyh
— Richard H. Ebright (@R_H_Ebright) July 2, 2021
Scientists fear to speak out against gain-of-function research because they receive funding from the NIH, according to Rogin. “So we can’t say anything like ‘gain of function might be dangerous or [COVID-19] may have come from a lab’ because we are going to lose our careers, we are going to lose our funding,” Rogin said many scientists have told him. Scientists whose whole life work was invested in gain-of-function research would have their careers and legacies “ruined forever.”
Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers who is a vocal critic of research enhancing the lethality of viruses, said in the Times article in 2012 that the research on the flu virus should only be conducted in laboratories with the highest biosafety rating, BSL-4, not BSL-3, in which the work took place.
The coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories, Dr. Shi Zheng Li, a WIV director and coronavirus expert, told Science magazine.
After COVID-19, China required SARS-CoV-2 research to be done at the BSL-3 level or above, she said.