Fauci: Of course we still need to partner with China on virus research

Why? Because that’s where the bats are, Anthony Fauci told Jake Tapper on yesterday’s State of the Union on CNN. This exchange feels awkward, and it is — because Fauci’s answering a different question than Tapper’s asking. Tapper wants to know whether the US has learned a lesson about working with a hostile country on dangerous research, while Fauci seems more intent on detailing why we should cooperate to get an answer on the real origin of COVID-19.

There isn’t much reliable video of this exchange available to embed (it can be seen on CNN’s site), but here’s the transcript:

TAPPER: … Gain of function, one definition of that is when scientists make a virus deadlier and more contagious in a lab in order to identify potential pathogens and prevent pandemics. Now, NIH says very clearly that the research the U.S. funded in that lab did not meet that definition. But either way, Dr. Fauci, I want to ask you, critics say the Wuhan lab experiments were nonetheless risky, whether or not they fit that category. And, obviously, the Chinese government is not a good-faith partner. They’re not allowing transparency. They’re not allowing a real investigation. So, as a matter of policy going forward, given that the Chinese government won’t allow any real investigation, do you still think the U.S. government should collaborate with labs like Wuhan, especially on research that experts consider risky?

FAUCI: Well, Jake, if you go back to when this research really started, and look at the scientific rationale for it, it was a peer- reviewed proposal that was peer-reviewed and given a very high rating for the importance of why it should be done, to be able to go and do a survey of what was going on among the bat population, because everyone in the world was trying to figure out what the original source of the original SARS-CoV-1 was. And in that context, the research was done. It was very regulated. It was reviewed. It was given progress reports. It was published in the open literature.

TAPPER: Yes.

FAUCI: So, I think if you look at the ultimate backed rationale, why that was started, it was almost as if, you didn’t pursue that research, you would be negligent…

TAPPER: Right, but…

FAUCI: … because we were trying to find out how you can prevent this from happening again.

TAPPER: But, going forward — like, a peer review is looking — those are doctors and scientists looking at the work of doctors and scientists…

FAUCI: Right.

TAPPER: … without kind of factoring in the fact that you have an oppressive Chinese government…

FAUCI: Yes.

TAPPER: … that won’t allow transparency. Going forward, are you still confident? (CROSSTALK)

FAUCI: Right. Going forward, we are always going to be very, very careful, go through all kinds of review, including the risk/benefit ratio. So, I would — I mean, if your question Jake is, looking forward, are we going to be very careful about the research that we do, well, we have always been very careful. And, looking forward, we will continue to be very careful in what we do. And we are always willing to reexamine the criteria that are used when you do research wherever you do them. But I think doing research in the context of where these things happen is very important. And SARS-CoV-1 originated in China. And that is the reason. If we were starting to look for bats in Secaucus, New Jersey, or Fairfax County, Virginia, it wouldn’t contribute very much…

TAPPER: Yes.

FAUCI: … to our understanding of where one SARS-CoV-1 originated. It originated in China.

Yes, but that’s not the question — not from Tapper and not from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci’s arguing for not closing the barn door after the horse has bolted to pursue an origin story for SARS, which appeared nearly two decades ago [see update]. And that might make some sense, if we had any expectation that further cooperation would get us any closer to an answer on COVID-19’s origins. China has made it clear, however, that it has no intention on cooperating on any further investigation at all, especially any that focus on the performance at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Further cooperation on GOF research — or anything approximating GOF — for that purpose is pointless, almost an example of the sunk-cost fallacy.

If Fauci means that we need to work in China to watch other bat viruses, there may be an argument there — if we assume they’ll cross over with any regularity to humans. How often does that happen, though, without scientists involved in the transfer? Is it worth the risk involved in promoting the kind of science which can easily be perverted into biological-warfare research, especially when dealing with a regime like Beijing’s? That’s a very good question, and that’s the one Tapper posed … and the one that Fauci avoided.

That doesn’t instill much confidence in the NIH in learning any lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. And frankly, neither does this:

Either the vaccines work or they don’t. The unvaccinated won’t cooperate with mask mandates anyway, and the burden should not be placed on the vaccinated to indemnify their irresponsibility. Vaccines are plentiful, so if they want to avoid infection, the unvaccinated should change that status ASAP.  If they don’t, that’s their choice, but it shouldn’t require everyone else to adapt to it. If the NIH and CDC start pushing mask mandates, it will only undermine their credibility even further.

Update: Added link to video on CNN’s site.

Update: As Jamison Faught reminded me on Twitter, SARS-CoV-1 is the virus for SARS; COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2. I’ve corrected it above, but that makes Fauci’s argument even more nonsensical. SARS emerged nearly two decades ago. If we hadn’t figured it out by 2019, why were we still funding the type of research that could prove dangerous in multiple respects? And now that we can see what those dangers might be, why would we continue to work with China’s regime on such efforts?