Did Fauci Spend Taxpayer Dollars on ‘Cruel and Unnecessary’ Test of Vaccine on Beagles?

Allocated government funds for the experiment reportedly totaled nearly a half-million dollars.

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Claim

Under the direction of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division of the National Institutes of Health approved the use of taxpayer dollars to fund "cruel and unnecessary" testing of an experimental vaccine on beagles.

Rating

Context

It is true that obligated funds were issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the amount of $424,555 for research conducted at the University of Georgia to test the efficacy of a potential vaccine for lymphatic filariasis on beagle subjects. However, it is unclear whether Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH, personally approved the project. Research conducted on behalf of NIAID is funded in large part through annual funds allocated by Congress and the president. A University of Georgia spokesperson indicated that testing on dogs was, in fact, necessary, and that all humane standards set by applicable agencies were adhered to.

Origin

In July 2021, a Republican-led animal rights advocacy group published a report that claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), approved funding from taxpayer dollars to conduct “painful experiments” on beagles. 

In an attempt to advance a human vaccine for a parasitic disease called lymphatic filariasis, the White Coat Waste Project (WCW), a Republican-backed advocacy group, claimed in its July 30 report that Fauci “spent $424,000 to commission a study in which healthy beagles are given an experimental drug and then intentionally infested with flies that carry a disease-causing parasite that affects humans.” The findings of the WCW investigation were subsequently reported in publications like Fox News and conservative-leaning outlets such as RT, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and The Patriot Project.

Snopes contacted WCW to receive copies of the documents reportedly obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the organization’s research manager, Daniel Lopez. Those are hosted in this Dropbox folder and have been archived on our site:

 
Snopes read through the 38-page FOIA request, and our analysis confirmed that obligated funds were issued to the University of Georgia Research Foundation (UGR) by the NIH in the amount of $424,555 to determine the efficacy of a potential vaccine for lymphatic filariasis on beagle test subjects. A contract shared online by the U.S. government defined the research as:

PRE-CLINICAL MODELS OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES; TASK C12 LYMPHATIC FILARIASIS VACCINE (LFGUARD) EFFICACY TRIAL IN DOGS

Research conducted on behalf of NIAID, of which Fauci is the director, is funded in large part through annual funds allocated by Congress and the president, though direct projects may be signed off on by various leaders within NIH. However, there is no evidence that the grant was personally approved by Fauci and there is no mention of him in the FOIA documentation. All that we can definitively say is that at least some of the money came from NIH. 

Neither the NIH nor UGR responded to Snopes’ requests to verify the documents published by the WCW, but a spokesperson for WCW sent our team a letter, written by NIAID Government Information Specialist Lauren Bartok in response to the FOIA request under case number 55876. The letter referenced the experimental documents obtained by WCW, confirming that the experiments took place.

What Is the White Coast Waste Project?

Founded in 2013, WCW is a watchdog group that is self-described as representing more than 2 million “liberty lovers and animal-lovers” who oppose using taxpayer dollars to support experiments on animals. It is not a traditional animal advocacy group but instead devotes its efforts to denouncing what it characterizes as wasted government funds spent on testing.

In 2016, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported that the Washington, D.C.-based organization is the “brainchild” of former Republican strategist Anthony Bellotti.

“His opposition to animal research began in 1995, when, in the summer between high school and college, he worked in a hospital laboratory that was conducting heart studies on pigs and witnessed experiments he saw as cruel. After he became a political consultant, he hit upon the idea of framing such research as a waste of taxpayer money,” wrote AAAS.

A Look Through the Government Documents

Personal and proprietary information had been removed from the document, including the name of the vaccine and experiment objectives. The files did note that the contractor [UGR} was to acquire “healthy, adult beagle dogs” to “administer different formulations [presumably of vaccine] to dogs via the intramuscular route.”

“Each set of experiments will use 14 dogs, which total 28 dogs at completion of the study (7 dogs in each group),” read the statement of work.

Studies began in mid-November 2020 at which point the “pathogen-free adult beagle dogs” were scheduled to receive a total of three doses on days 0, 28, and 56. Throughout the study, researchers were instructed to monitor the dogs’ health twice daily and collect blood and urine samples.

A first dose of the vaccine was administered on Nov. 12 with a second-round given on Dec. 17 “without incident with one important exception.” That exception was four dogs in the so-named “blue” group reported as having “vocalized in pain upon administration.” After a physical examination five days later, the four dogs were observed as being “bright, alert, and responsive.”

A third and final round was administered on Jan. 14, 2021, also without incident but with “one important exception.” Half of the animals in the “blue” group again “vocalized in pain upon administration.” A week later, they were once gain deemed “bright, alert and responsive.” Emails sent between the researchers were included in the FOIA documents and confirmed that only the “blue” group showed a “consistent pain response.”

The research is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 15, 2022, and all animals “will be euthanized after day 196,” read the FOIA document.

Image of the filarial worm Dirofilaria immitis (heartworms) in a lymph node of a dog with lymphoma. Lance Wheeler/Public Domain
 
Animal Testing of an Unnamed Lymphatic Filariasis Vaccine

The UGR contract noted the vaccine was for lymphatic filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasitic infection, caused by microscopic, thread-like worms. When inside of their human hosts, these filarial worms live in the human lymph system and can cause elephantiasis and, in men, a condition called hydrocele that causes the swelling of the scrotum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lymphatic filariasis affects an estimated 120 million people worldwide with another 1.2 billion at risk of infection, wrote researchers in 2014. Currently, there is no vaccine available for human cases, though treatment typically consists of chemotherapy and multiple drug therapies.

But as the White Coat Project reported, vaccines for the disease have been tested in mice — and were shown to be 90% effective — and macaques (70% effective). In fact, at least 27 related animal experiments have been conducted since the 1940s on filarial worms. While WCW deemed the experiments “cruel and unnecessary” and claimed that some of the dogs were “bitten to death,” the NIH contends that all research involving animals is overseen by the agency’s Office of Laboratory Welfare to ensure it is conducted ethically. 

“All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies that ensure the smallest number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare,” notes the agency on its website.

Furthermore, no evidence was put forward showing that the dogs were subject to biting, let alone “bitten to death.” If any such information was included in the FOIA document, it has since been redacted. 

In an interview with Newsweek, Greg Trevor, associate vice president for marketing and communications at the University of Georgia, confirmed that the research was for a potential vaccine that was developed and another institution. In an emailed statement, Trevor reportedly told the publication that “under federal rules, a vaccine must be tested in two animal species before it can be cleared for human clinical trials.” NIAID decided to fund this research and that it needed to be conducted on a dog model, of which beagles are the “standard.”

“Because this disease currently has no cure, unfortunately, the animals that are part of this trial must be euthanized. We do not take lightly the decision to use such animals in some of our research,” Trevor reportedly told the publication.

Following the Federal Dollars

Research conducted on behalf of NIAID is funded in large part through congressional and executive actions deciding how to allocate taxpayer dollars. These annual allocations are then signed off on by the sitting president.

NIAID funding for the fiscal year 2021 was awarded $5.4 billion by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020. The following year, President Joe Biden requested an increase of $178.9 million, or 2.9%, for a total of $6.2 billion to be awarded in the fiscal year 2022.

In this case, it is likely true that research conducted at UGR was at least in part funded by NIAID and NIH with taxpayer dollars, though it is unclear whether such allocations were personally approved by Fauci.