Senate passes Rand Paul amendment banning U.S. funding for "gain of function" virus research in China

In a better world this would be a silly, unnecessary amendment. Given the growing possibility that the pandemic began with a lab accident involving a virus made dangerous to humans via “gain of function” research, of course the feds won’t be funding any more such research in China. NIH is increasingly being blamed for having started the COVID catastrophe via its support for the Wuhan Institute of Virology. You think it’s going to throw more money at that lab and risk seeding the next outbreak if Congress doesn’t step in and formally prohibit it?

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that better world. In April of last year, as the virus was laying waste to New York City, NIH terminated coronavirus research funding for EcoHealth Alliance, the middleman between the agency and the WIV. But a few months later, after EcoHealth pledged to help NIH investigate the origins of the COVID outbreak, it received another $7.5 million from the agency. Even though hardly anyone believes it’ll be able to keep its pledge due to obstruction by the Chinese government.

So, yeah, maybe the Senate really did need to step in here. When the next human-engineered plague afflicts the planet, killing millions, it’ll be a comfort to know that no U.S. taxpayer money went to the effort.

Shouldn’t we want to ban funding for all “gain of function” research everywhere, not just China, while there’s momentum to do so?

Also, the amendment will need to take care to define “gain of function” so that there are no loopholes for NIH to wriggle through. Remember, Fauci insists even now that none of the money given by EcoHealth Alliance to the WIV supported “gain of function” research. Other scientists who’ve looked at the lab’s work disagree. From Paul’s press release about the amendment:

The amendment defines gain-of-function research as “any research project that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity or transmissibility in mammals.” This is the same definition the NIH used when implementing a funding moratorium on gain-of-function research in 2014-2017.

Nicholas Wade, in his widely read argument that a lab leak most likely started the pandemic, pointed out that the moratorium to which Paul refers had a major loophole:

The moratorium, referred to officially as a “pause,” specifically barred funding any gain-of-function research that increased the pathogenicity of the flu, MERS or SARS viruses. It defined gain-of-function very simply and broadly as “research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease.”

But then a footnote on p.2 of the moratorium document states that “An exception from the research pause may be obtained if the head of the USG funding agency determines that the research is urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.”

Better make sure no footnotes end up in the Senate ban. And Congress should pay special attention to the definition of “gain of function” in its statute, as Fauci has been slippery about that. “There is debate over whether this is truly ‘gain of function’ research,” wrote science journalist Donald McNeil recently, describing the WIV’s work creating “chimera” viruses and testing them on mice. “Some argue that gain of function strictly involves taking a virus already known to endanger humans and trying to make it more lethal or more transmissible.” That’s Fauci’s position; evidently, because the chimeras weren’t yet known to be dangerous to humans until they were tested, to him they don’t constitute true “gain of function.”

But we don’t want to be funding that kind of research either, right?

Here’s Paul discussing his amendment on Fox this morning and stressing that any investigation of the WIV can’t be done by the WHO, which is in China’s pocket, but also can’t be done by Fauci and NIH. There’s a conflict of interest by dint of the EcoHealth Alliance grant, he notes. If Fauci ended up discovering wrongdoing at the lab, he’d be in a position of having to tell on himself by admitting that an outfit which his own agency funded (indirectly) is responsible for starting the pandemic.