Last Updated on September 26, 2022
Dr. Anthony Fauci says he’s dedicated to “keeping a completely open mind” about how the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China in 2019. The longtime NIH director added that the Chinese government is “probably” withholding information from the international community, however. Fauci previously cast doubt on the possibility that the virus was engineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“You wanna keep an open mind that it could have been anything that happened,” Fauci said Wednesday during a conversation with Atlantic editor Ross Andersen. “But the evidence that they have been working on for years strongly favors a natural occurrence.”
Scientists and researchers have long asked questions about the exact origins of the COVID-19 virus, though no concrete conclusion has been reached to date. Fauci, CDC director Rochelle Walensky and a number of other COVID response leaders around the world have stated that the virus emerged naturally in a bat or other animal host before jumping to humans.
Others theorize that the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While the theory has yet to be definitively proven, a sizable amount of evidence has emerged that suggests the possibility.
A letter from Lawrence Tabak, the National Institutes of Health’s principal deputy director, to Rep. James Comer (R-KY) confirms that the Fauci-led NIH funded research at the WIV during 2018-2019 that manipulated a bat coronavirus called WIV1. Researchers at the institute grafted spike proteins from other coronaviruses onto WIV1 to see if the modified virus was capable of binding in a mouse that possessed the ACE2 receptors found in humans — the same receptor to which SARS-CoV-2 binds. The modified virus reproduced more rapidly and made infected humanized mice sicker than the unmodified virus, the New York Post reported.
Beginning in 2014, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease funded the New York-based research nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance with annual grants through 2020 for “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence.”
Total funding was $3,748,715. More than $600,000 of that went to the Wuhan lab.
While speaking with Anderson, Fauci suggested that the Chinese government is withholding information regarding the origins of the virus. “The fact is, as a society, when something occurs that looks like — even if it’s naturally coming out of China — they will be secretive about it,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “Because of this feeling that they’re gonna get blamed for something.”
Dr. Fauci stressed that he was referring to the Chinese government, not Chinese citizens, nor Chinese scientists, who he said “have made major contributions to our knowledge.”
Fauci previously praised a letter that praised the Chinese government’s response to the outbreak and labelled the lab leak hypothesis as a “conspiracy theory.”
“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins. We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin … Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear,” reads a portion of the letter.
Fauci previously backtracked on his support of the letter, arguing that it didn’t rule out the lab leak theory despite clearly casting doubt on it.