Covid-19

SARS-CoV-2: US congressmen call for Fauci to be questioned about lab-origin hypothesis

There has been a new call for the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Anthony Fauci, to be questioned about the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 was genetically manipulated in a laboratory in China.

The call came in a letter from the Republican leader on the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform, James Comer, and Republican ranking member on the Committee on the Judiciary Jim Jordan.

Comer and Jordan released redacted emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act that shed light on Fauci’s opinions about the lab-origin hypothesis and the views of former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Francis Collins and several of the scientists who co-authored a controversial letter in which the hypothesis was dismissed as implausible.

The two congressmen are calling for a transcribed interview with Fauci. They say that the emails they attached to their letter reveal that the NIAID director was warned of two things: the potential that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the possibility that the virus was intentionally genetically manipulated.

“It is imperative we investigate if this information was conveyed to the rest of the government and whether this information would have changed the US response to the pandemic,” Comer and Jordan wrote in their letter to the secretary at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), Xavier Becerra.

Comer said the new information revealed that Fauci (pictured left) may have concealed information from government officials “about Covid-19 originating from the Wuhan lab and the virus possibly being genetically manipulated”.

He added: “The new information also indicates Dr Fauci and former director of the National Institutes of Health Dr Francis Collins may have colluded with other scientists to downplay the lab leak theory.”

Comer tweeted: “Oversight Republicans have secured more @NIH emails showing what we’ve long suspected: Fauci took the Wuhan Lab Leak much more seriously than he publicly let on. It’s time for America’s most famous doctor to sit for a transcribed interview with @GOPoversight.”

Jordan and Comer state in their letter: “Despite Dr Fauci claiming otherwise on multiple occasions, he was, in fact, aware of the monetary relationship between NIAID, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), EcoHealth Alliance Inc. (EcoHealth), and the WIV by January 27, 2020.”

They added: “Dr Fauci also knew that NIAID worked with EcoHealth to craft a grant policy to sidestep the gain-of-function moratorium at the time.

“This new policy, designed by EcoHealth and agreed to by NIAID, allowed EcoHealth to complete dangerous experiments on novel bat coronaviruses – with very little oversight – that would have otherwise been blocked by the moratorium.”

Comer (pictured left) and Jordan refer to a conference call that took place on February 1, 2020, in which Fauci, Collins, and at least eleven other scientists discussed Covid-19.

“It was on this conference call that Drs Fauci and Collins were first warned that Covid-19 may have leaked from the WIV and, further, may have been intentionally genetically manipulated,” the two congressmen wrote.

“Again, it is unclear if either Dr Fauci or Dr Collins ever passed these warnings along to other government officials or if they simply ignored them.”

Jordan and Comer note that, on February 4, 2020, four participants in the conference call authored a paper entitled ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’ and sent a draft to Fauci and Collins.

“Prior to final publication in Nature Medicine, the paper was sent to Dr Fauci for editing and approval,” the two congressmen added.

“It is unclear what, if any, new evidence was presented or if the underlying science changed in that short period of time, but after speaking with Drs Fauci and Collins, the authors abandoned their belief Covid-19 was the result of a laboratory leak.”

In ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’, which was published on March 17, Kristian Andersen et al. said it was improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus because the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) binding was not ideal.

Anderson et al. wrote: “Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here.

“However, since we observed all notable SARS-CoV-2 features, including the optimised RBD and polybasic cleavage site, in related coronaviruses in nature, we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

One of the questions Comer and Jordan want answered is “What new evidence, if any, came to light about Covid-19 between February 1, 2020, and February 4, 2020, to alter the belief it originated in a lab?”

Jordan (pictured left) and Comer say the HHS and its subordinate agency have hidden behind redactions to shield emails from public scrutiny.

“We call on you to immediately lift these redactions and produce the email communications to Congress. Further, considering the import of the above questions, we request Dr Anthony Fauci be made immediately available to sit for a transcribed interview,” the two congressmen wrote in their letter to Becerra. They requested a response by January 18, 2022.

Comer and Jordan attached a series of redacted emails to their letter.

“At the request of Committee Republicans and pursuant to the Seven Member Rule, the Department of Health and Human Services made unredacted versions available for an in camera review but not available to the public,” the two congressmen explained.

“Committee staff, to the best of their ability, hand transcribed the contents of the emails … Unless otherwise noted, emphasis is added.”

One of the emails contains surprising comments by professor of microbiology and immunology at the Tulane Medical School in New Orleans Robert F. Garry (pictured below), who was one of the co-authors of ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’.

 

Another of the emails is from the director of the Wellcome Trust, Jeremy Farrar (pictured left), who organised the February 2020 conference call, to Fauci, Collins, and the principal deputy director of the NIH, Lawrence Tabak.

Farrar quotes Michael Farzan (pictured below), who chairs the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the Florida campus of Scripps Research.

Farrar said a likely explanation could be that SARS-live CoVs had been passaged in tissue culture on human cell lines for an extended period of time.

A later email shows that, by February 4, Farrar had revised his thoughts about an accidental release of SARS-CoV-2 from a laboratory versus a natural event to 50:50. Eddie Holmes from the University of Sydney, who was a co-author of ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’, said he was 60:40 in favour of the lab origin hypothesis.

Andrew Rambaut, who was also a co-author of ‘The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2’, said in an email to Farrar and others on February 2, 2020: “From a (natural) evolutionary point of view the only thing here that strikes me as unusual is the furin cleavage site”.

A furin cleavage site is a segment of four amino acids that enables a virus to use furin in the human body as an enzyme to dissolve its coating so that it can release its genetic material to infect cells. Furin cleavage sites tend to be more infectious than cleavage sites that use other enzymes.

Collins (pictured below) has referred several times to the lab-origin hypothesis as a conspiracy.

Collins said on February 2 that “voices of conspiracy” threatened “science and international harmony”:

Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier, who participated in the February 2020 conference call, also said he feared harm could be done “to science in general and science in China in particular” if there was further debate about the lab-origin hypothesis.

In an article in The Intercept on January 13, Maia Hibbett and Ryan Grim say Garry wrote to The Intercept in an email that his initial impression and that of others about the furin cleavage site was wrong.

“I changed my mind with new information/new data,” Hibbett and Grim quote Garry as writing. “That’s how science works. No one was trying to mislead the public. What was in the Proximal Origins paper was our best analysis – it’s held up extremely well.”

The journalists further quote Garry as writing: “Neither Drs Fauci or Collins edited our Proximal Origins paper in any way. The major feedback we got from the Feb 1 teleconference was: 1. Don’t try to write a paper at all – it’s unnecessary or 2. If you do write it don’t mention a lab origin as that will just add fuel to the conspiracists.”

The president of the EcoHealth Alliance, Peter Daszak, drafted a statement from 27 health scientists that was published in The Lancet on February 19, 2020, and condemned as “conspiracy theories” suggestions that Covid-19 did not have a natural origin. Jeremy Farrar was one of the letter’s signatories.

In an email sent in April 2020, and obtained by BuzzFeed News via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Daszak thanks Fauci for “publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for Covid-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology”.

Emails exchanged between Fauci and Kristian Andersen, who is one of the most well-known proponents of the zoonosis hypothesis, and between Andersen and Daszak, show that, in January/February 2020, Andersen made a dramatic about-turn in his comments about the possible origin of SARS-CoV-2.

On January 31, 2020, Andersen wrote about SARS-CoV-2 having “unusual features”, some of which “potentially look engineered”.

Only a few days later, on February 4, Andersen said in an email to Daszak: “The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.”

Andersen wrote that “ fringe theories” should be countered “strongly and in plain language (‘consistent with’ [natural evolution] is a favorite of mine when talking to scientists, but not when talking to the public –especially conspiracy theorists)”.

More to follow on the release of emails obtained by the investigative research group ‘U.S. Right to Know’ through a California Public Records Act request.

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