A defiant Dr. Anthony Fauci pooh-poohed the US Energy Department’s conclusion that COVID-19 likely leaked from a Chinese lab – urging people to keep “an open mind” and saying “we may never know” the origin of the disease.
Fauci, 82, the former White House chief medical adviser, noted that intelligence agencies aren’t aligned on the lab leak theory and have not arrived at a definitive answer to what caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must all keep an open mind to all possibilities” about the origins of the coronavirus, Fauci told The Boston Globe on Monday, adding, “we may never know” the source of the outbreak.
The retired director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued: “I don’t see any data for a lab leak. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened.”
Fauci dismissed the lab-leak theory early in the pandemic and consistently repeated his belief that the virus most likely occurred naturally.
At the onset of the pandemic, Fauci called the lab-leak theory a “shiny object that will go away” in an internal email from April 2020.
Fauci’s latest comments come after the Energy Department released a bombshell report to the White House and top members of Congress saying it had “low confidence” that the deadly bug emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Fauci noted that the DOE’s conclusion — first reported Sunday by The Wall Street Journal — shows there’s “a dichotomy of opinion” among experts and doesn’t firmly answer the question.
In 2021, the FBI reached a similar conclusion with “moderate confidence” – but the former top doc noted that four other intelligence agencies don’t agree with the lab-leak theory.
He pointed out that evolutionary virologists have published two peer-reviewed articles presenting biological evidence that “rather strongly suggests it was a natural occurrence.”
The experts used DNA evidence to demonstrate that the virus likely jumped from animals to people at a live-animal market in the Chinese market, according to Fauci.
Commenting about the state of the pandemic after three years, Fauci said: “The good news is that we’re much better off than we were a year ago. The sobering news is that we’re not out of the woods yet.”
He described the current rate of 400 to 500 COVID-related deaths in the US every day “unacceptably high,” saying it reflects low vaccination rates, the failure to use masks in crowded indoor places and not testing when symptoms are present.
Fauci claimed the scientific response to the pandemic was “a resounding success,” with the rapid development of effective vaccines and treatments – but said the public health response was lacking due to problems in tracking the virus in real-time.
Republicans have claimed that Fauci has rejected the lab-leak theory to cover up his former agency’s involvement in funding so-called “gain-of-function” research, in which scientists make viruses more transmissible and harmful.
Despite his denials, the National Institutes of Health admitted in October 2021 to funding gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan facility.
On Monday, the Biden administration defended Fauci, with White House press secretary Karine-Jean-Pierre saying the attacks by Republicans “have been counterproductive, they have not been helpful.”