U.S. Senate broke out in applause after passing an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul that bans the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund gain-of-function research in China passed the chamber on Tuesday.
Though the measure had been established law before the COVID-19 pandemic, it likely wouldn’t have prevented the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from providing $600,000 in subgrants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) between 2014 and 2019 in part to tinker with bat-based coronaviruses.
This new amendment created “gain-of-function” using a nearly identical definition used in the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control and Oversight (P3CO) review framework, which was established by the Department of Health and Human Services in late 2017 to provide oversight on such research. Both the P3CO framework and Paul’s amendment define gain-of-function as any research that is “reasonably anticipated” to enhance the pathogenicity or transmissibility of deadly viruses.
But the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, led by Dr Anthony Fauci, used that same definition of gain-of-function to determine that an NIH grant with the nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance, which involved the transfer of taxpayer funds to the WIV to study bat-based coronaviruses, did not require independent review by the HHS P3CO review committee, even though some virologists said it unequivocally did.
“We may never know whether the pandemic arose from the lab in Wuhan, but we do know that so far no intermediate animal host has been discovered,” Paul said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Thousands of animals at the wet market have been looked at, none of them has carried COVID-19. We’ve tried to infect COVID-19 into bats, it doesn’t grow well in bats. It seems most adapted and suitable for humans.”
“We may not know whether this rose out of a Wuhan lab, but I think gain-of-function research — where we take a deadly virus, sometimes much more deadly than COVID, and then we increase its transmissibility to mammals — is wrong. In 2014, NIH stopped all of this research. I’m using the same definition to say any gain-of-function research should not be funded in China with U.S. taxpayer dollars, and I recommend a yes vote,” Paul added.
Paul’s amendment passed unanimously by a voice vote, after which some in the Senate chamber cheered.
The NIH spokesperson previously told the DCNF it would be “misleading and inaccurate” to suggest NIAID was required to notify the HHS review committee of its determination.
Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard H. Ebright previously told the DCNF that EcoHealth grant unequivocally involved gain-of-function research and said the offices of the director for the NIAID and NIH have “systematically thwarted — indeed systematically nullified — the HHS P3CO Framework by declining to flag and forward proposals for review.”
“This is a systemic problem,” Ebright said.
SENATE: The Senate chamber erupts into cheers after an amendment proposed by @RandPaul that bans US funding of gain-of-function research in China is passed by unanimous voice vote pic.twitter.com/8fQ6hAWpuW
— Forbes (@Forbes) May 25, 2021
Paul has been among the most vocal lawmakers questioning the received wisdom of medical experts throughout the pandemic, pushing back especially against some of Dr Anthony Fauci’s assertions.
Most recently, Paul grilled Fauci about grant money from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) that allegedly went to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a lab from which some believe the COVID-19 virus might have leaked.
“We don’t know whether the pandemic started in a lab in Wuhan or evolved naturally,” Paul said in a press release. “While many still deny funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan, experts believe otherwise. This newly passed amendment ensures that this never happens in the future. No taxpayer money should have ever been used to fund gain-of-function research in Wuhan, and now we permanently have put it to a stop.”