Fauci defends his work on Covid-19, says he has an ‘open mind’ about its origins

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci defended his decision-making during the Covid-19 pandemic on Monday, testifying before Congress about his work on the virus as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during two presidencies.

House Republicans, who called the hearing, criticized Fauci during a controversial three-hour session on the origins of Covid-19, which has killed more than 1 million Americans, and Fauci’s role in the response. It was the first appearance by 83-year-old Fauci, who also served as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, before Congress since leaving government in 2022.

In response to allegations that he was doing so to avoid being overlooked, Fauci has repeatedly said he did not conduct official business using private email. He also said he kept an open mind about the origins of the virus and explained to members of the Special Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic why the guidelines changed so much during the first few months of the pandemic.

“When you have a new epidemic, everything changes,” Fauci said. “The scientific process gathers information that will allow a decision, recommendation, or guideline to be made.”

“As we evolve and change and get more information, it’s important to use the scientific process to get that information and maybe change your thinking, change your guidelines and change your recommendations,” Fauci added.

Republicans on the panel repeatedly asked Fauci about how the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China received grants from the U.S. government, and whether he or another lab could have created the COVID-19 disease. This theory contradicts another that the virus emerged as a result of an “ancillary event” at an outdoor food market.

Fauci testified that it was impossible that viruses studied at the Wuhan Institute under an NIH subgrant could have led to Covid-19, but he did not rule out that it came from another source.

“I cannot and no one can explain the other things that may be happening in China, and that is why I have always said and I will say now: I have an open mind about their origins,” Fauci said. “But I know one thing for sure: NIH-funded viruses phylogenetically could not have been a precursor to SARS-CoV-2.”

Fauci added that the $120,000 grant sent to another organization before being sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a diminutive part of the budget.

“If they were to do something on the side, they have plenty of other money to do it. They wouldn’t necessarily have to use the $120,000 NIH grant,” Fauci said.

He testified that the NIH award to the Wuhan Institute of Virology “funded research on the surveillance and emergence of infections.”

“I wouldn’t characterize this as dangerous gain-of-function research,” Fauci said. “I have already testified in this case several times.”

Over the past few years, policymakers have used multiple, often changing, definitions in research on function gain. The American Society of Microbiology writes in: two-page explanation that it is “used in research to change the body’s functions in such a way that it is able to do more than usual.”

Saving lives

Fauci testified that actions taken during the first few months of the pandemic were crucial to saving lives. These efforts included encouraging people to practice social distancing, wear masks and get the vaccine once it is approved.

Fauci said that if public health officials had simply allowed the virus to pass through the country without any precautions or safety measures, “it’s very likely that another million people would have died.”

He said information about the Covid-19 vaccine was provided as it was received, including details on whether it would completely stop the spread of the virus or whether it worked mainly by reducing earnest illness and hospitalizations.

The issue is particularly “complicated,” Fauci said, because data showed that early in the rollout the vaccine “prevented infection and then, of course, transmission.”

“However, it is important to note that as the months went on, there was something we didn’t know that we didn’t know at the beginning and that became obvious as the months went on, and that the durability of protection against infection, and therefore transmission, was relatively limited, while the duration duration of protection against severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths were longer,” Fauci testified.

“We didn’t know that at the beginning,” he added. “At first it seemed to actually prevent infection and therefore transmission. However, over time it turned out that this was not a lasting effect.

Republican members of the subcommittee, as well as members of other committees, repeatedly asked Fauci about allegations that he avoided using his government email address to circumvent requests for such communications under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Fauci has vehemently denied the accusations, saying he “never conducted official business using” his personal email address.

Death threats

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell asked Fauci during the debate hearing about the threats he and his family have faced over the past few years, especially due to the spread of misinformation and misinformation about Covid-19.

“There were credible death threats, which led to the arrests of two people. And credible death threats mean someone who was clearly on their way to kill me,” Fauci testified.

Fauci, his wife and three daughters received harassing emails, texts and letters. Fauci said it made him feel “terrible” to have people targeting his family for his public health job.

“It is generally necessary for me to have protective services at all times,” Fauci testified. “It’s very embarrassing for me.”

One of the most critical Republicans on the panel, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, caused a pause during the hearing by refusing to address Fauci as a doctor and instead calling him “Mr. Trump.” Fauci.”

Greene also alleged that Fauci should be in prison, even though she presented no evidence of a crime and no police department or law enforcement agency has charged him with a crime.

Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, a ranking member of the Oversight and Accountability Committee, of which the subcommittee is a part, said the GOP’s repeated investigations into Fauci’s conduct show that “he is an honorable public servant who has dedicated his entire career to public health in the public interest. And he’s not a comic book superhero.”

Raskin later apologized to Fauci for several GOP lawmakers treating him like a “convicted felon,” then apparently mentioned the fact that former President Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, is a convicted felon.

“Actually, you probably want them to treat you like a convicted criminal. They treat convicted criminals with love and admiration,” Raskin said. “Some of them blindly worship convicted criminals.”

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