Written by: Mina Jahandoost, Pharm.D. Candidate, B.A., A.S.
It is always important to approach any subject matter with facts, reason and logic. Individuals who dedicate an abundant amount of time and almost their entire lives researching or performing a certain duty are regarded as experts in their field. As a society we rely on these special persons to provide guidance on their areas of expertise. This is especially true when such subject matter revolves around one’s health and wellbeing.Historically and still to this day, a medical practitioner is considered to be one of the most trusted professions among society. One question we should ask ourselves is to which extent should we trust our health care professionals. After all, they are human beings and are not exempt from makings errors as patients die as the result of malpractice every day. What is interesting to witness unfold during the current COVID-19 pandemic is how much one doctor in particular is being plastered on almost every news outlet and has become a crucial advisor to the Trump administration’s task force to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director ofthe National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, no doubt has made an enormous contribution to the scientific community from his research on HIV/AIDS and immunoregulation. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,300 scientific publications and has been rated the 41stmost highly cited researcher in a 2019 analysis of Google Scholar citations. It is no surprise why anyone refrain fromquestioning the validity of Dr. Fauci’s opinion since he is much respected for his intellect and expertise in his field. Despite all of this, Dr. Fauci is just as capable of promoting one scientific theory over another like a politician favors one side of an issuein order to protect his reputation and avoid negative backlash. For this reason, it can be somewhat detrimental to a country to solely rely on either one or few individuals for advice during a national emergency when it involves a novel coronavirus that has put doctors in a dark place not knowing how to treat the disease and even more so when there might be conflict of interest which will be further discussed. It is even more worrisome when we compare Dr. Fauci’s current remarks regarding origins of viruses compared to those from eight years ago. In an article that Dr. Fauci published in June 2012 describing risks and benefits of Influenza H5N1 research, statesthat in general whenever one purposely alters a virus or a microbe, it is always possible, at least in the theoretical sense, that results from the research could be utilized by bioterrorists to intentionally cause harm, or that an accidental leak of a pathogen from a laboratory could also do much harm. (Fauci & Collins, 2012). As of May 16, 2020, records of any dialogue or responses from Dr. Fauci in regard to a possibility of COVID-19 either created in a lab or accidently leaked from a lab have beenvague, lacking details, and deemed as if he is trying to avoid the discussion. This type of discourse should raise concerns if it is conveyed from someone considered to be one of the world’s renowned scientific researcher. On April 17 during the White House Coronavirus Press Briefing a reporter asked President Trump to address if the virus was somehow manmade, possibly came out of a laboratory in China. Dr. Fauci’s response in exact words were “There was a study recently that we can make available to you, where a group of highly qualified evolutionary virologists looked at the sequences there and the sequences in bats as they evolve. And the mutations that it took to get to the point where it is now is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human. So, I mean, the paper will be available — I don’t have the authors right now, but we can make that available to you.” Seventeen days later on May 4, National Geographic Magazine published an interview that took place on the same date with Dr. Fauci on their website. The following is one segment from the interview quoted in its entirety.
Nsikan Akpan (Reporter): “One topic in the news lately has been the origins of SARS-CoV-2. I mean, do you believe or is there evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was made in the lab in China or accidentally released from a lab in China?”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Well, you know, there’s two issues. If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now is very, very strongly leaning towards this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated — the way the mutations have naturally evolved. A number of very qualified evolutionary biologists have said that everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that evolved in nature and then jumped species. One of the issues of saying could that virus that was in, first of all, if you if you accept the, the, the premise which is very strongly supported by scientific evidence that it was not deliberately media mutated and deliberately changed and you say if it was in the wild and evolving, the likelihood had jumped species. Naturally someone will say, well, maybe somebody took it from the wild, put it in the lab and then it escaped from the lab. But that means it was in the wild to begin with. So that’s why I don’t get what they’re talking about. If it isn’t manipulated in the lab and you’re trying to say to escape from the lab, then how did it get in the lab? It got in the lab because somebody isolated it from the environment. So that’s the reason why I don’t spend a lot of time going in that circular argument.”
At the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing Dr. Fauci states that evidence for supporting the theory that COVID-19 was due to a jump in species from a team of highly qualified virologists and in the interview with National Geographic he states that the theory was supported by a team of highly qualified evolutionary biologists. While evolutionary virology is a subfield of evolutionary biology, the two fields of study arevastly different. In both interviews, he avoids answering the question of the possibility of the virus to have accidently been released from the lab. From April 17th until the submission date of this article on May 16th, one month has passed and Dr. Faucihas yet to disclose the research from these “highly qualified” experts on evolution. So far to date the only recent scientific research that has supported Dr. Fauci’s claim that the emergence of COVID-19 was due to evolution is an article by Nature Medicine published on March 17 that National Geographic had embedded into their interview with Dr. Fauci. In the article it mentions basic research involving passage of bat SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses in cell culture and/or animal models has been ongoing for many years in biosafety level 2 laboratories across the world, and there are documented instances of laboratory escapes of SARS-CoV. Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the theory that it was(Anderson et al, 2020).
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has funded studies of coronaviruses that were published in 2017through 2018 that involved Wuhan Institute of Virology, a Level 4 Biosafety laboratory located in Wuhan, China. It has been established that COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China and some of the first documented cases of patients had a common denominator of having visited Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which is 8 miles away from the lab. A theory that Dr. Fauci may be avoiding the question of whether it was possible that the novel coronavirus may have accidently escaped from a lab is because it would create speculation that Dr. Fauci is somewhat accountable for the pandemic and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. Close proximities in geographic origin of the COVID-19 epicenter and the Wuhan Institute of Virology can also be purely coincidental. Even if the chance is very minimal for an accidental leak of the virus from the lab, the affiliation, coronavirus experiments, and its close proximity to the epicenter of the pandemic are aspects that should be analyzed if there is a potential conflict of interest for Dr. Faucito partake in such a major role in the Trump Administration’s task force. Despite the fact that Dr. Fauci is an expert, it is necessary to establish criteria if one falls into conflict of interest as it can lead to bias of supporting one theory over another in favor of protecting reputation.
Further research needs to be conducted on the lab to rule out the theory; however, not much has been discussed or reportedabout a thorough investigation. The facts that Dr. Fauci ignoredthe question regarding accidental laboratory leakage from both reporters, has ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology which is close proximity to the epicenter and conducted coronavirus research within the past 3 years, his failure to provide the sources of his highly qualified experts’ research to support the theory that COVID-19 resulted in a jump in species, and leaning strongly towards one theory of explanation within a short time frame and with minimal investigation can be open for interpretation that his priority of saving face may be greater than saving lives. His affiliation with the Wuhan Institute of Virologycould be a reasonable explanation as to why he is avoiding discussions that suggest an accident or a mistake may or mayhave not taken place. Possessing connections that can create controversies eventually lead to clouded judgement and lack of transparency, which in turn ultimately impacts many areas ofpublic health and public policy. More research needs to be done over time to produce more evidence that proves or disproves the theory that the novel coronavirus came from a lab. Further discussion also needs to take place to determine how certain relationships of public health or public policy experts alter their judgement and if such officials should acquire highly influential positions This analysis is not meant to discredit Dr. Fauci’scredentials or his character. It is meant solely to analyze his responses to inquiries regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and does not suggest that Dr. Fauci is involved in malicious intent. In the end, the truth will always reveal itself.
Anderson, K., Rambaut, A. Lipkin, I.W., Holmes, E., & Garry, R. (2020). The proximal origin ofSARS-CoV-2. Nature Medicine, 26, 450–452.
Fauci, A., & Collins, F. (2012). Benefits and risks of influenza research: lessons learned.Science, 336(6008), 1522-1533.
Nsikan, A. & Jaggard, V. Fauci: No scientific evidence the coronavirus was made in a Chineselab. (2020, May 4). National Geographic.
Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus TaskForce in Press Briefing. (2020, April 17). U.S. White House. Retrieved May 16, 2020.