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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Anthony Fauci accused each other of lying at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, amid yet another clash over whether the National Institutes of Health funded risky "gain-of-function" research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Why it matters: It was a remarkable exchange between the U.S. government's top infectious diseases expert and a prominent Republican senator — an outburst that followed more than a year of tensions and two previous confrontations in hearings related to COVID-19.

Context: At issue is the definition of "gain-of-function" research, which involves purposefully enhancing pathogens in a lab to better understand them.

  • China's Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located just miles from the market where the first COVID-19 outbreak was detected, previously received funding from Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance.
  • The EcoHealth grant partially funded research at WIV that involved analyzing bat specimens collected from caves in China to study their potential for infecting humans.
  • Shi Zhengli, a lead researcher at WIV, was known from public documents to be conducting gain-of-function experiments, according to the Washington Post. Fauci has denied that the research that the NIH funded through the EcoHealth grant qualifies as gain-of-function.

Why it matters: Paul and other Republicans have suggested that if the coronavirus indeed originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which the U.S. intelligence community is investigating, then Fauci and other U.S. health officials bear responsibility for the pandemic.

The exchange:

  • PAUL: "This research matches — indeed it epitomizes — the definition of gain-of-function research done entirely in Wuhan, for which there was supposed to be a federal pause. Dr. Fauci, knowing that it is a crime to lie to Congress, do you wish to retract your statement of May 11 where you claimed that the NIH never funded gain-of-function research in Wuhan?"
  • FAUCI: "Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress, and I do not retract that statement. This paper that you are referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function."
  • PAUL: "You take an animal virus and you increase its transmissibility to humans, you're saying that's not gain-of-function?"
  • FAUCI: "That is correct. And Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly. And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about."

...

  • PAUL: "All of the evidence is pointing that it came from the lab. There will be responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself."
  • FAUCI: "I totally resent the lie you are now propagating, senator. ... You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individuals. I totally resent that and if anybody is lying here, senator, it is you."

Go deeper: The two-sided risks of lab-enhanced viruses

Go deeper

Oct 27, 2021 - Health

COVID cases, deaths at meat plants were far higher than previously thought

Tyson Foods in Portland, Maine, in 2020. Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Cases and deaths from COVID-19 among workers at the five largest U.S. meatpacking companies were nearly three times higher than previously thought, according to a memo from the House panel probing the response to the pandemic.

Driving the news: At least 59,000 workers contracted COVID-19 and 269 workers died at Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, National Beef and Smithfield Foods — which together make up more than 80% of the beef market and 60% of the pork market in the U.S. — according to counts through January of this year.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated Oct 28, 2021 - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters' union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under De Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

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