WHO Reopens Investigation into Origins of COVID-19 Virus | Citizens Against Government Waste

WHO Reopens Investigation into Origins of COVID-19 Virus

The WasteWatcher

The World Health Organization (WHO), the public health agency of the United Nations, is renewing its investigation into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, better known as the COVID-19 virus.  Considering the virus has killed more than 4.7 million people around the world and included in that horrific statistic is more than 700,000 deaths in the U.S, it is vitally important that scientists understand the origins of SARS-CoV-2, it’s life-cycle, and how to prevent another deadly pandemic.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on September 26, 2021, that about 20 scientists, including specialists in laboratory safety, biosecurity, geneticists, and animal disease experts that are knowledgeable on the transmission of a virus from a vertebrate animal to a human are being brought together into a new investigative team.  They are authorized to “hunt for new evidence in China and elsewhere.”  The WSJ noted that the Biden administration is urging WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to revive the investigation and it is probable that at least one American will be a member of the group.  Since WHO is again receiving U.S. funding after the Biden administration reversed the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the organization, the health agency’s priorities are more in line with the U.S. than at the time of the original investigation.

That first review took place in January 2021 by a team of WHO foreign experts, who visited the Wuhan laboratory after months of negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.  The group concluded that it was unlikely that the virus spread from a lab, but the WSJ article stated that Dr. Tedros has said more examination is needed on whether the virus came from a lab or not, especially since the first team only spent a few hours at the Wuhan research laboratory and were unable to get much information from China that would answer “when, where, and how the virus began spreading.”

How the virus came into being has been controversial almost from the moment it began to spread across the globe in early 2020.  The first hypothesis was the virus jumped from an animal, likely a bat, that was sold in a Wuhan wet market.  Wet markets are a group of vendors that sell live animals or carcasses, including many exotics, to consumers and are found all over China.  For years, Beijing had been warned these types of markets could be dangerous as one had caused a lethal coronavirus to spread 20 years ago.

It wasn’t long before others began to theorize that based on the virus’s genetic structure, it was likely produced in a laboratory, probably at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.  One article, written by Nicholas Wade, a science writer for Nature, Science and previously with the New York Times, and published in the May 2, 2021 Medium, provides evidence that supports the theory that the virus was likely manipulated in a lab.  The piece also raised serious questions on whether the Wuhan laboratory could have received indirect funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

On February 19, 2020, several virologists wrote a letter published in The Lancet, that noted it was a conspiracy theory to suggest that the COVID-19 virus was man-made.  But Wade pointed out that Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance of New York, who had organized the letter-writing campaign, had provided funding to the Wuhan Institute for coronavirus research and did not acknowledge that in the letter.  According to Wade, EcoAlliance had been experimenting with viruses and “routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature,” and that “if the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Dr. Daszak would be potentially culpable.”  Daszak had also received funding from the National Institutes for Health, raising questions of whether that money had been transferred to the Wuhan lab.

The October 1, 2021, British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that The Lancet task force into the origins of the virus has been shut down due to the conflict of interest presented by Dr. Daszak and EcoHealth Alliance.  The BMJ stated, “The decision came as evidence continued to accumulate that Daszak had not always been forthright about his research and his financial ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.  Daszak now faces increased scrutiny from scientists, the media, and members of US Congress.”  EcoHealth Alliance has received millions of dollars in research grants by the U.S. government to study viruses to prepare for pandemics and has subcontracted out some of its research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) wrote about the need for increased oversight in how federal funding is used in health research in a May 17, 2021 blog entitled, “Sen. Rand Paul Grills Dr. Fauci on NIH Grants and Wuhan Institute of Virology.”  The argument between Sen. Paul and Dr. Fauci, which occurred again at a July 20, 2021 hearing, was over whether NIH funded gain-of-function research and whether such research could have led to the creation of COVID-19 at the Wuhan Institute.  

China continues to resist any thorough investigations, arguing that any new inquiry should focus on other countries.  This would include looking at countries like Italy where the COVID-19 first appeared in the Western world.  China also wants WHO to focus on Fort Detrick, Maryland, which at one time was the nation’s center for biological weapons research from the 1940s to the 1960s, but now conducts biomedical research and development.  The WSJ pointed out that few scientists outside of China see Fort Detrick as the origin of the COVID-19 virus and Director-General Tedros has resisted any idea of investigating the military facility.

It is questionable whether a new research team will be able to discover more about the origin of the virus.  It seems unlikely that China’s Communist leadership will allow a new research team into the country with greater access than they previously granted to the lab, and whether evidence will still be available, like blood samples, that can be analyzed.

The WSJ quoted Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, who said, “The selection of a new and larger team, drawn from a wider range of countries and areas of expertise, could serve to isolate China diplomatically if its government continues to rebuff pressure. … The question is, will it be enough? … China still holds all the cards, the WHO lacks power and it’s inconceivable to me that a new committee will be able to negotiate access to China … This is building a beautiful committee with nowhere to go.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration asked in May 2021 for an intensive intelligence review into the origins of the corona virus and report on its findings in 90 days.  Part of the reason for this new emphasis was that an intelligence report found that several researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized.  In July, the intelligence review reported that the theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan is just as credible as the theory it emerged naturally in the environment.  But there was little new evidence to make a clear determination and more investigation is needed, especially getting access to early samples in China.

Some investigations, like whether the NIH or other government agencies funded gain-of-function research and whether more or any taxpayer money should be sent for any medical research in China, are well within the control of Congress and should be continued, along with anything else that elected officials can do to find out about the origins of COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics from occurring.

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