CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the faces of the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, responded to criticism of funding sent to a Chinese lab, the release of thousands of his emails, and the state of the pandemic in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday.
You can watch Dr. Anthony Fauci’s full interview with Leland Vittert in the player above
Dr. Fauci and the National Institutes of Health are facing scrutiny from Republican members of Congress and others over grant money paid to a lab in Wuhan, China in the early 2000s, as scientists increasingly question whether COVID-19 emerged from the lab.
But Fauci said the research, which looked into the risk of bat coronaviruses being transmitted to humans, is being inappropriately connected to the Chinese military.
“We’re not talking about the Communist Chinese party. We’re not talking about the Chinese military. We’re talking about scientists that we’ve had relationships for years,” Fauci said.
The grant in question was given to a group called EcoHealth Alliance in 2002, which then paid the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which collects genetic material from wildlife and experiments with live viruses in animals to gauge human susceptibility.
Fauci argued the amount of NIH funding which went to the lab was relatively low.
“The Wuhan lab is a very large lab, to the tune of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars — the grant that we’re talking about was $600,000 over five years,” Fauci said.
To reduce the risk of pathogens escaping, the facility is supposed to enforce rigorous safety protocols, but even the strictest measures cannot eliminate such risks.
While testifying before a Senate committee last Wednesday, Fauci acknowledged it wasn’t possible to tell if the grantee was lying about what the funds were used for, but said Wednesday the quality of reports issued by the lab suggested they were used appropriately.
“I can’t guarantee everything that’s going on in the Wuhan lab, we can’t do that, but it is our obligation as scientists and public health individuals to study the animal-human interface because we had a very difficult experience that we lucked out that we didn’t get hurt too badly with the original SARS in 2002 and 2003,” Fauci said.
Fauci said working with the lab was necessary in order to find out the potential for the viruses to infect humans, “which might then damage the United States.”
“You don’t want to go to Hoboken, New Jersey or to Fairfax, Virginia to be studying the bat-human interface that may lead to an outbreak, so you go to China,” Fauci said.
President Joe Biden has ordered American investigators to submit a report looking into the origins of COVID-19 within 90 days, and pledged to release the results of their findings publicly. China responded by accusing the U.S. of playing politics with the virus.
Also this week, thousands of Fauci’s emails from early in the pandemic were released to news outlets including Buzzfeed and The Washington Post under a Freedom of Information Act request.
They show Fauci’s communications with officials, reporters, celebrities and even concerned citizens as the pandemic unfolded.
“The only trouble is they are really ripe to be taken out of context where someone can snip out a sentence in an email without showing the other emails and say, ‘based on an email from Dr. Fauci, he said such-and-such,” where you don’t really have the full context,” Fauci said.
Looking ahead, Fauci said if the U.S. meets President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adults with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Fourth of July, it will be a “giant step towards” returning to normal but the pandemic won’t be completely over.
“Even though the virus is not going to disappear, it will diminish greatly as a public health threat, which means we can get closer to normality and we feel that by the time we get to the summer it will get better and better,” Fauci said.