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Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.

  • "I obviously totally disagree with Senator Paul," Fauci told George Stephanopoulos. "He's absolutely incorrect. Neither I nor Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, lied or misled about what we've done."
  • Fauci was responding to a clip of Paul, a Kentucky Republican, telling Mike Allen on the upcoming episode of "Axios on HBO" that President Biden should fire Fauci "just for lack of judgment, if nothing else."

The big picture: Paul claims vindication in his dispute with Fauci, played out at heated Senate hearings, over the level of risk of U.S.-funded research in Wuhan, where COVID began.

  • "He's probably never going to admit that he lied," Paul told "Axios on HBO." "He's gonna continue to dissemble, and try to work around the truth, and massage the truth."

But, but, but: Fauci told Stephanopoulos the implication of the criticism is that the research led to COVID-19.

  • But the doctor said it's "molecularly impossible for those viruses that were worked on to turn into SARS-CoV-2," or COVID-19.
  • "They were distant enough molecularly that no matter what you did to them, they could never, ever become SARS-CoV-2."

Fauci added that the U.S. "knew what the risk was and what the oversight is" at the Wuhan lab.

  • "Certainly, they should have put their progress report in a timely manner," Fauci said. "No denial of that, and there will be administrative consequences of that."

Catch our full interview with Sen. Rand Paul tonight on "Axios on HBO," at 6 pm ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max. Watch a preview.

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Go deeper

Nov 28, 2021 - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

NIH director: "No reason to panic" yet about Omicron variant

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins on Sunday said that while much is still unknown about the Omicron coronavirus variant, "there's no reason to panic" yet but more data is needed.

Why it matters: Collins' remarks on CNN's "State of the Union" come amid a broader discussion of how the new strain, first identified in South Africa, will impact the pandemic and how to curb its spread.

Movie theaters go out of style

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vaccination rates are going up, people are going out to restaurants again — although the new COVID variant may get in the way — but they still aren't rushing back to the movies.

By the numbers: Some 49% of pre-pandemic moviegoers are no longer hitting theaters, according to a study from the film research company The Quorum, as reported by the New York Times.