New NIH nominee tells Rand Paul she still supports gain-of-function funding in China. That’s unhinged

We're still a long way away from the accountability that needs to happen in the scientific community over COVID-19.

Monica Bertagnolli is the new nominee for National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director and last week the Senate HELP committee voted to advance her candidacy. The motion was opposed by HELP Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders and GOP Senators Rand Paul, Mike Braun, Tommy Tuberville, Markwayne Mullin, and Ted Budd.

The White Coat Waste Project (WCW), a free market animal welfare organization dedicated to ending taxpayer-funded animal torture (where I am a Fellow), obtained Bertagnolli’s written responses to Senator Paul, and the alarming results show why this interesting group of bipartisan senators opposed her.

In Bertagnolli’s responses she refuses to commit to ending gain-of-function experiments or even to end funding for animal labs in China. In fact, she defends both. Given the growing belief (and evidence) that COVID-19 was created and leaked via this kind of research in the Wuhan lab—with the use of US tax dollars we might add—this is an extreme position for her to take. Especially considering that President Joe Biden, the NIH itself, and Congress have taken recent steps to cut off this sketchy lab and eliminate our tax dollars going to labs in any enemy territories where we obviously have less control or oversight of their functions.

“HHS initiated debarment of the Wuhan Institute of Virology from receiving federal funding for the next ten years. However, according to the NIH website, over two dozen other animal labs in China, including many with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are currently eligible for more taxpayer funding,” Paul wrote. “Additionally, Government  Accountability Office (GAO) audits in March and June of 2023 detailed problematic NIH loopholes that exempt labs in China and other foreign countries from oversight  and transparency required of U.S. labs that receive taxpayer dollars. A recent review of federal spending identified millions of U.S. tax dollars still being sent to Chinese animal labs for virus experiments, including at several labs run by or tied to the CCP. “

Do you think the NIH should be sending tax dollars to labs in China?” Paul posed.

Paul was referring to investigations performed by WCW that looked into the numerous US taxpayer grants funding Chinese animal labs and their funding. The FOIAs and other information obtained by the group have provided the majority of the “smoking guns” around the origins of COVID19.

“NIH supports research to better understand the characteristics of animal viruses that have the potential to spill over to humans and cause widespread disease. We must collaborate with researchers in other countries where these sorts of viruses are prevalent because once a virus spreads to humans, it is not contained by geographical boundaries. The body of research on  pathogens and infectious diseases is what has made it possible for the U.S. government to move so quickly to get a COVID-19 vaccine in an unprecedented timeframe. Countless lives have been saved as a result,” Bertagnolli responded. That is frankly an unhinged thing to say.

We are still a very long way away from the accountability and reckoning that needs to happen in the scientific community as a result of the COVID-19 disaster, which again, it seems they not only colossally failed to adequately respond to but also likely had a hand in creating in the first place. 

It is unacceptable for the NIH to continue participating in gain-of-function research at all. It involves unethical animal torture many taxpayers oppose their money being involved in, and it’s too risky to justify—which is why it was outright outlawed during the Obama administration in the first place. But to allege that it is not only appropriate, but necessary, that we send our tax dollars overseas to conduct this research in the labs of our foreign enemies is a national security threat and inexcusable. 

Not only will Bertagnolli not commit to ending these practices, it appears she won’t even go so far as to ensure the taxpayer-funded animal labs in countries like China and Russia have adequate oversight.

Paul went on to ask Bertagnolli, “A bill I introduced, the FDA Modernization Act 2.0, which became law on December  29, 2022, amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to remove an outdated animal testing mandate and give drug sponsors the freedom to use modern alternatives to animal testing to assess the safety and effectiveness of new drugs. Unfortunately,  despite the change in law, there have been several recent examples of expensive testing on dogs and other animals that were commissioned by the NIH and only canceled and determined to be unnecessary after criticism from Congress and independent watchdog groups. How would you improve the current review system to ensure the NIH does not spend taxpayer dollars wastefully on drug tests on animals that are no longer required by law?”

Paul’s questioning was again referring to a WCW investigation that revealed the NIH was continuing to find loopholes or just proceeding with unnecessary animal testing plans despite public and political pressure to cease these operations.

But Bertagnolli seems to think things are operating just fine at the NIH. She responded, “All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare.” But we know that’s not true, so simply stating that oversight is already in place and sufficient is a non-answer to Paul’s question.

Let’s not forget that the whole way the gain-of-function funding happened in Wuhan to begin with was through the NIH illegally funding a passthrough organization—EcoHealth Alliance—to get around Obama’s ban on the practice.

Justin Goodman, WCW’s Senior Vice President, said in a statement, “As the group that exposed the NIH’s reckless funding of the Wuhan animal lab’s gain-of-function experiments that likely caused COVID and its continued bankrolling of dozens of unaccountable CCP-linked animal labs in China, we’re alarmed that the Senate HELP committee would advance an NIH Director nominee who still defends these dangerous programs that put public health in peril. The NIH needs a leader that won’t tolerate reckless spending on widely-opposed animal testing programs that waste billions of tax dollars, butcher beagles, enrich our enemies, and can prompt pandemics. But Monica Bertagnolli is another entrenched NIH bureaucrat who won’t even commit to common sense reforms like ending treacherous gain-of-function experiments, defunding animal labs in China or ensuring animal labs in China and Russia have decent oversight. Taxpayers deserve better.”

Clearly a lot has gone wrong within the NIH for some time. They need someone to come in and clean house. These bureaucrats got used to operating in the dark for many years and came to believe they were above scrutiny or accountability, Bertagnolli is clearly one of them and in no way suited for the job.

Hannah Cox is a Fellow at White Coat Waste Project.

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.