Dr Anthony Fauci confronted Sen Rand Paul at a contentious hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions after the Kentucky senator accused him of responsibility for the entire Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Fauci, who runs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), faced questions on Thursday related to a letter last month from the principal director of NIAID’s parent agency, NIH, regarding collaboration with a Chinese laboratory on a study involving coronaviruses.

Some Republicans have touted the letter, which acknowledges US funding for research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as evidence that the federal government with Dr Fauci’s support supposedly funded research at the lab which some have theorised was the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter does not prove that claim, however, and instead notes that the research involved coronaviruses that were “decades removed from SARS-CoV-2 evolutionarily”, referring to a scientific designation for Covid-19. The viruses in the study “could not have become SARS-CoV-2”, it continues.

Still, the right has disputed with NIH officials whether the study was “gain of function research”, or work aimed at altering the transmissibility or other aspects of viruses, and used that dispute to claim that Dr Fauci and others lied about the research funding and therefore are involved in a cover-up.

On Thursday, Dr Fauci was asked by Mr Paul about the letter and asked by the Kentucky Republican to take the blame for the entire global Covid-19 outbreak.

“You have said that I am unwilling to take any responsibility for the current pandemic. I have no responsibility for the current pandemic,” the doctor responded.

“As usual, and I have a great deal of respect for this body of the Senate, and it makes me very uncomfortable to have to say something, but he is egregiously incorrect in what he says,” Dr Fauci continued.

“History will figure that out on its own,” the senator quipped in response.

Republicans have been split on messaging surrounding Covid-19 since the pandemic began last year. Some, like Mr Paul, have clung to unproven or totally disproven theories about the virus, vaccines, masks, and other issues related to the pandemic, resulting in higher levels of skepticism towards getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and following public health guidelines in many conservative communities.

Others, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Arkansas Gov Asa Hutchinson, have publicly touted the efficacy of vaccines and urged their fellow Americans to get vaccinated; the latter even publicly admitted that a statewide ban on mask mandates had been a mistake.

Many conservatives are now battling the Biden administration’s plans for nationwide vaccine mandates affecting health care workers, federal employees and private employers with 100 or more workers.

Democrats have remained unified around calls for Americans to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, citing persistent rates of Covid-19 in the US as a major barrier between the present and a total economic recovery from the recession that struck last year as the pandemic hit US shores.

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