Dr Anthony Fauci laughed off lab leak questions again in a PBS documentary that aired Tuesday — despite growing concerns about his ties to Covid’s origin.
The former White House doctor — who has been accused of being ‘fame hungry’ by right-wing critics — allowed a camera crew to shadow him for 23 months starting in January 2021 as he led the US’s Covid response.
In one part of the show, Fauci justified signing off on US taxpayer-funded grants for risky virus research in China that are feared to have started the pandemic, saying they were ‘experiments that needed to be done’. He also said he wished he had recommended masks earlier in the pandemic.
The grinning medical advisor claimed the lab leak was ‘molecularly impossible’ because the viruses manipulated in Wuhan under his watch were so different from the eventual pathogen that caused the global outbreak.
Dr Fauci then made a bizarre analogy to cars and motorcycles, adding: ‘They [the viruses] were so different, it’s kind of like you have a Chevrolet and you got a motorcycle and you say, ‘I want to make that Chevrolet into the motorcycle’.
Dr Anthony Fauci said that it was impossible that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology could have genetically engineered the coronavirus that prompted a global pandemic
At times in the PBS documentary, set to air on Tuesday night, Dr Fauci appears to relish the media attention he gets. He has keepsakes around his home office like this novelty throw pillow likely gifted to him by a fan
Dr Fauci appeared in his home office taking calls and meetings, having retaken a public-facing position under the newly-minted Biden administration
‘No matter what you do to that Chevrolet. You’re not going to make it into a motorcycle, like, what are you talking about?’
The PBS documentary shows Dr Fauci working from his home office in Washington DC, where he has displayed memorabilia of his achievements, such as news clippings of his work on AIDS research in the 80s.
Hanging on the wall is also a sketch of Dr Fauci famously holding his forehead in his palm at a White House briefing in which former President Donald Trump gave ridiculed health advice.
And sitting on a chair in the room is a throw cushion displaying Dr Fauci’s face.
During an interview with the camera crew, Dr Fauci said his critics cherrypicked from an expansive list of 10,000 awards he signed off on during his four-year stint as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), an arm of the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Between 2014 and 2019, the NIH awarded a series of grants totaling approximately $3.7 million to the New York nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, which funneled the funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to carry out experiments on bat coronaviruses.
The Wuhan research facility is located less than 10 miles from an animal slaughter market where the first series of human cases were clustered.
But Fauci told the PBS camera crew: ‘The microbe [the WIV scientists] were working on not only was not SARS-CoV-2, it would be molecularly impossible for them to turn it into SARS-CoV-2.’
Questions about Fauci’s involvement in the Covid origin story have intensified in recent weeks after it emerged he commissioned a paper denouncing the lab leak theory in the early days of America’s Covid outbreak.
He then publicized the study at a White House news conference weeks later – without disclosing his involvement.
Dr Fauci explained the US’ role in gain of function research, which he defined using air quotes
Meanwhile, Dr Fauci and other public health experts publicly denounced the lab leak theory as nonsense. The theory was initially dismissed as a symptom of pervasive anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.
In March 2020, over two dozen scientists condemned the lab leak theory, saying they ‘stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.’
It was later revealed, though, that 26 of the 27 signatories had some link.
Dr Fauci also spends portions of the documentary slamming Trump and praising his successor Joe Biden.
He said to someone over the phone that President Biden’s transition team wanted tens of thousands of people to be able to attend Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, but conferred with scientists about the safety of it first.
Dr Fauci said: ‘He [President Biden] put his ego aside and said ok and they went for a few hundred. Could you imagine convincing the other guy about that?’
In the documentary, Fauci also contends with vaccine hesitancy, which has been pervasive in some minority communities.
He accompanied DC Mayor Muriel Bowser to a ward in the city called Anacostia, a historically disenfranchised area where access to healthcare is low and one in three families lives below the poverty line.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser went door-to-door in 2021 to encourage hesitant people to get vaccinated against COVID
‘I heard [the vaccine] doesn’t cure it, and it doesn’t stop you from getting it,’ one woman says
‘Nine months is definitely not enough for nobody to be taking no vaccination that you all came up with,’ he says
Fauci tries to defend the vaccine, explaining how the technology used to develop it had been worked upon for 20 years
In one moment, Dr Fauci and Mayor Bowser are confronted with a black Anacostia resident who accused them and other government officials of overblowing the gravity of the pandemic to sow fear.
The man said: ‘People in America are not settled with the information that has been given to us right now.
‘So I’m not going to be lining up taking a shot on the vaccination for something that wasn’t cleared in the first place.’
He went on: ‘And then you all create a shot in miraculous time. It takes years…20 years is not enough, and nine months is definitely not enough for nobody to be taking no vaccination that you all came up with.’
It did not seem that Dr Fauci and Mayor Bowser got through to him and they moved on after a time.
Another Anacostia resident who answered the door said she had not gotten vaccinated because she heard from unnamed sources that it did not prevent or cure infection.
Dr Fauci was quick to convince her that while getting vaccinated would not guarantee total protection from infection, the shots were highly effective at preventing very severe illness that could land someone in the hospital or on a ventilator.
He told the Anacostia woman: ‘On the very very very rare chance that you do get it even if you’re vaccinated it’s a very, you don’t even feel sick, you don’t even know you got infected. It’s very very good at protecting you.’
In another part of the documentary, he is asked whether he should have recommended masking earlier during the pandemic.
‘Maybe I should have done that… yeah, I was wrong,’ he said.
He famously recommended against masking earlier in the pandemic in a move that was later revealed to be a bid to help preserve material for doctors and health workers.
The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time
Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists studied bat-derived coronaviruses
Interspersed in the documentary are moments in which Dr Fauci appears to relish his newfound fame.
He was celebrated during the Trump presidency for being the voice of reason and the ‘adult in the room’ while Trump spouted ludicrous tips such as taking an unproven drug and ingesting cleaning supplies.
But his meteoric rise to fame was ridiculed by critics who accused him of being an opportunist, basking in his notoriety with moves like posing for InStyle magazine.
His critics in Congress and the media have also needled him for being overconfident early in the pandemic about the course of the virus and the toll it would take on the American public.
He has also been slammed for flip-flopping on crucial safety guidance, going from discouraging people from wearing masks in public to insisting on it.
‘We have an open mind’: Flustered Fauci claims he is now open to lab leak theory
READ MORE: Fauci laughed at the idea and said he has always kept an ‘open mind’ about the virus’ origin despite his past insistences that COVID-19 was a natural occurrence.
Dr Fauci recounted tense exchanges with Republican Sen Rand Paul during a Senate health committee hearing in July 2021, when the US saw a relative lull in case counts before slamming headfirst into the delta variant that wreaked havoc.
Sen Paul argued that Dr Fauci’s agency helped fund research that entailed genetically altering a pathogen to become more transmissible or deadly.
This type of research commonly referred to as ‘gain of function’ – which Dr Fauci named using air quotes – is used to understand dangerous pathogens better and teeing up a successful federal response should the virus become an epidemic.
Critics say the risk of starting an outbreak through carrying out this research outweighs any theoretical benefit.
Dr Fauci said on camera: ‘Rand Paul was insidiously throwing into his little questions that the work that was done in the Wuhan lab, funded by a small grant from NIH, a strong implication that that created a virus that made COVID.’
Many people, including many in leadership positions, maintain that the coronavirus that caused a global pandemic was the result of a dangerous pathogen escaped from a poorly-secured lab.
The lab-leak theory has been endorsed with ‘low confidence’ by the Department of Energy and with ‘moderate confidence’ by the FBI.
A government report out in January lent lab leak supporters a measure of vindication when it said that the National Institutes of Health, the sweeping federal agency where NIAID is housed, failed to ‘understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action’.
Fauci pivoted recently, saying that he now has ‘an open mind’ to claims the virus leaked from a Chinese lab.
There is still no scientific consensus on where the pandemic had its origins, but a large body of evidence points to zoonotic transmission in which the virus jumped from an animal to humans without help from a lab.
What did Fauci get wrong? From telling people not to wear masks to claiming vaccines stopped infections
Dr Anthony Fauci is due to step down from his position as one of America’s top infectious disease advisors at the end of this year.
Below are listed some of his key blunders when the virus struck
Don’t wear masks, do wear masks
As global concern for Covid was surfacing in March 2020, Fauci told Americans that there was ‘no need’ to wear a face mask.
He said they may only help people ‘feel a little better’, and ‘might even block a droplet’ — but would not provide good protection.
Less than a month later, he was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after it emerged the virus spread via droplets in the air.
Dr Fauci later insisted he advised people not to wear masks to ensure there were enough available for hospitals and healthcare centers.
Covid did not come from a lab
Dr Fauci has also repeatedly insisted that Covid did not leak from a lab in China.
He called the theory a ‘shiny object that will go away’, and brushed aside claims from other top experts as an ‘opinion’.
Dr Fauci has now backpedalled, saying instead that he keeps an ‘open mind’ although insisting that it remains ‘most likely’ that the virus spilled over from animals to humans.
Two jabs will stop you catching Covid
When the Covid vaccine roll-out was in full swing, Dr Fauci said the immunity from shots made doubly-vaccinated people a ‘dead end’ for the virus, and even suggested they may no longer need to wear masks.
Schools were closed from March through to August 2020, something Dr Fauci later expressed regret about.
But he said last month that he ‘should have realized’ there would be ‘deleterious collateral consequences’.
Children are now bearing the brunt of the US’s tripledemic, after lockdowns left them without proper immune defense.
Funding Wuhan lab
In 2014, Dr Facui’s agency issued a $3.7million grant to EcoHealth Alliance, which some allege was used to support gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).