Fauci once argued for risky viral experiments — even if they can lead to pandemic
The nation’s chief medical advisor wrote in the American Society for Microbiology in October 2012 of the public health benefit to gain-of-function viral experiments — which center on manipulating viruses and making them stronger — as long as there is significant oversight.
In the article, first reported by The Australian, Fauci also noted that a pause on such studies should continue until researchers can figure out how to do them more transparently.
Gain-of-function experiments are the sort of work that was being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology when the COVID-19 pandemic first started in China in late 2019 and some experts fear a lab accident is what led to the global outbreak that killed 3.4 million.
In the 2012 paper, Fauci acknowledged the risky research could lead to serious lab accidents but the chance is rare and the work is “important” because it helps the scientific community prepare for naturally occurring pandemics.
“In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic?” he wrote at the time.
“Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision? Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks.”
He wrote that it was “more likely” that a pandemic would occur naturally and “the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.”
However, he noted the scientific community “must respect that there are genuine and legitimate concerns about this type of research, both domestically and globally.”
“We cannot expect those who have these concerns to simply take us, the scientific community, at our word that the benefits of this work outweigh the risks, nor can we ignore their calls for greater transparency, their concerns about conflicts of interest, and their efforts to engage in a dialog about whether these experiments should have been performed in the first place,” Fauci wrote.
“Those of us in the scientific community who believe in the merits of this work have the responsibility to address these concerns thoughtfully and respectfully.”
The ultimate thesis of the commentary piece was to express support for a pause on gain-of-function research related to the transmissibility of the “highly pathogenic” H5N1 influenza virus. Fauci’s abstract noted the moratorium should continue “pending the resolution of critical policy questions concerning the rationale for performing such experiments and how best to report their results.”
Fauci didn’t immediately return a request for comment.