National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins accused Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Friday of spreading “misinformation” about the use of federal grant money by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
Earlier this week, Paul accused the NIH and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of funding so-called “gain of function” research into bat coronaviruses through grants. Gain of function research refers to the process of studying viruses by making them more virulent and transmissible in people.
“It’s really unfortunate that a lot of misinformation is being spread around here,” Collins insisted on Fox News’ “Special Report”.
“Let me be very clear, we never approved any grant that would have supported gain of function research on dangerous coronaviruses to see if they could be more transmissible or lethal for individuals in the human species,” he added. “That was not something that we would have done … we never approved that kind of research and that’s something Sen. Paul might want to be a bit more clear about.”
Collins added that it was “appropriate” for the NIH to fund Chinese research into bat coronaviruses in the wake of the SARS and MERS epidemics, but acknowledged that the agency “can’t absolutely prevent somebody who has an intention of deceiving us about how they use the funds.”
Newsweek reported last year that the NIH funded a two-phase research project by the Wuhan Institute of Virology that started in 2014 and looked at bat coronaviruses. The first phase of the project, which concluded in 2019, had a budget of $3.7 million. The second phase, which was run by the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, “included some gain-of-function work,” according to Newsweek. Politico reported in April of last year that the NIH had abruptly cut off funding for the project.
“I can categorically tell you that nothing we approved would have included this kind of gain of function research on SARS CoV-2,” Collins reiterated Friday.
The NIH head also told host Shannon Bream that while he believed the coronavirus “most likely … spilled over from bats into humans by some transmission that we haven’t fully understood,” a thorough investigation was necessary.
“The idea of some kind of lab accident has been out there and I would not say that the investigation that was done by [the] WHO earlier this year satisfied anybody as far as really looking into the details of that,” said Collins, who added, “we don’t know the answer yet, and we need to know.”