Agency responds to concerns from lawmakers and activists
The nation’s top agency dealing with the spread of infectious disease has responded after a group of lawmakers pressed its director, Dr Anthony Fauci, for answers about supposed US-funded experiments involving vaccines tested on puppies.
In a lengthy emailed statement to The Independent on Monday, the agency clarified that the unsettling image of beagle puppies apparently sedated with their heads inserted into small enclosures containing disease-carrying sand flies was not supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
According to the agency the study and its associated images, such as the one above, “mistakenly cited support from NIAID” when they were published in July’s issue of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, an online scientific journal.
“[I]n fact NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated,” the agency’s statement continued.
The agency did go on to specify other instances of experiments on young dogs conducted with support from NIAID, which the agency described as part of efforts to develop a vaccine for leishmaniasis, a sometimes-deadly disease that can lead to disabling disfigurations among survivors; it is common in some developing nations throughout some tropical regions and southern Europe.
NIAID described the development of a vaccine for that disease as “an important research goal”, and stated that the NIAID-funded study did not involved sedated dogs in restraints, but rather subjects that were allowed in “an enclosed open space during the day, during high sandfly season”.
The agency also responded to criticism from a group of bipartisan lawmakers who questioned the agency about the experiments in a letter published on Monday; the two dozen members of Congress in particular questioned why some dogs reportedly had their vocal cords removed prior to the experiments. NIAID’s statement explained that the surgeries were aimed at both providing a less-stressful environment for other dogs, as well as keeping noise levels under OSHA-regulated levels.
“Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present. This is to reduce noise, which is not only stressful to the animals but can also reach decibel levels that exceed OSHA allowable limits for people and can lead to hearing loss,” said NIAID.
The agency’s lengthy clarification comes in response to a sudden fixation on the issue of experiments involving dogs from a conservative group that opposes federal funding for scientific studies involving animals, as well as right-wing YouTubers such as Stephen Crowder. The right have jumped on the issue as a means of attacking Dr Fauci, the NIAID director whose support for mask mandates and other public health guidelines aimed at fighting Covid-19 have made him a much-maligned figure among conservatives.
The conservative group White Coat Waste was still displaying images of the beagle puppies mistakenly attributed to an NIAID-funded study on its website as of Tuesday morning, including a pop-up video titled “Dr Fauci’s OTHER international scandal”.
The group has also recently flirted with Covid-19 conspiracy theories, and on Tuesday included the hashtag “#LabLeak” in a tweet; the hashtag is a reference to unproven (and widely dismissed) claims that the Covid-19 pandemic originated from an accident that supposedly occurred at virology lab in Wuhan, China.