More revelations concerning the initial responses of top officials at the National Institutes of Health about the origins of COVID-19, which killed an estimated 1.1 million Americans, keep dripping out of the federal bureaucracy.
Top officials’ initial narrative hardened into a stubborn insistence on natural origins for COVID-19. However, most leading virologists consulted by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, initially thought that the novel coronavirus had an unnatural origin.
Fauci’s Memo. Today, we can take Fauci’s word for it. On Feb. 1, 2020, he conferred with a group of top virologists to discuss the origins of COVID-19. In his email that day (delivered at 11:58 p.m.) to Department of Health and Human Services officials Garrett Grigsby and Brian Harrison (with copies to other HHS officials, as well as NIH Director Francis Collins), Fauci writes of the virologists:
They were concerned about the fact that upon viewing the sequences of several isolates of the nCoV [the virus that causes COVID-19], there were mutations in the virus that would be most unusual to have evolved naturally in the bats and that there was a suspicion that this mutation was intentionally inserted. The suspicion was heightened by the fact that scientists in [China’s] Wuhan University are known to have been working on gain of function experiments to determine the molecular mechanisms associated with bat viruses adapting to human infection, and the outbreak originated in Wuhan.
Wuhan, China, is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, suspected of being the source of a virus that somehow escaped a research lab.
Fauci’s memo confirmed his personal knowledge that “gain of function” experiments—research designed to enhance the transmissibility and virulence of pathogens—were being conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Genetic Engineering? In the same email Feb. 1, 2020, Fauci emphasized that “some of the scientists felt more strongly about this [genetic engineering] possibility, but two others felt differently.”
For example, the day before the call, Jan. 31, 2020, Dr. Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research Institute emailed Fauci about the novel coronavirus, stating in part: “Some of the features (potentially) look engineered … I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie [Holmes], Bob [Garry], Mike [Ferguson], and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”
And the day after the call, on Feb. 2, Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane University wrote:
I really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario where you get from the bat virus or one very similar to it to nCoV where you insert exactly 4 amino acids 12 nucleotide that all have to be added at the exact same time to gain this function—that and you don’t change any other amino acid in S2? I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature. Do the alignment of the spikes at the amino acid level—it’s stunning.
Despite these questions, the result of that crucial teleconference was the publication March 17, 2020, of a paper titled “Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2” in the journal Nature Medicine. That article concluded that “SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
Enthusiastic acceptance of a “natural origin” for the pandemic, particularly among the media and the political class, is itself a curiosity. Since Communist China shut down access to COVID-19 information in January 2020, the authors of the paper published by Nature Medicine neither had nor could have had access to Chinese hard data.
Without an identified intermediate animal host for transmission of the novel coronavirus to humans, they could only speculate as to whether that host was a pangolin or a racoon dog or some other exotic creature sold in Wuhan’s notorious “wet market.” To this day, that intermediate host is yet to be identified.
About-Face. What has intrigued congressional investigators is that Andersen and Garry seemed to have abandoned overnight their support of the lab-leak theory in favor of a natural viral origin for COVID-19.
Andersen subsequently referred to the lab origin as a “crackpot theory” and accused those who thought otherwise as conspiracy theorists, which oddly enough would have included Andersen himself before publication of the article in Nature Medicine.
Congressional investigators rightly have been intrigued by this dramatic about-face among key authors of the Nature Medicine paper. In his testimony July 11, 2023, before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, Andersen insisted that Fauci merely encouraged him to explore the matter further. That response didn’t satisfy Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., who asked: “What happened within that three-day period, between the conference call and the paper, that all of a sudden you did a 180, and it couldn’t possibly come from a lab … ?”
In a separate report, staff of the House select subcommittee documented privately expressed concerns among the teleconference participants about preserving international harmony with their Chinese counterparts.
Consider the Feb. 2, 2020, email that Dr. Andrew Rambaut (another virologist on the original call) wrote to Andersen, Holmes, and Garry: “Given the s— show that would happen if anyone serious accused the Chinese of even accidental release, my feeling is we should say that given there is no evidence of a specifically engineered virus, we cannot possibly distinguish between natural evolution and escape so we are content with ascribing it to natural processes.”
So much for the scientific method.
During the select subcommittee hearing, Malliotakis observed: “Scientists do not flip-flop in a matter of 72 hours, and whether it was the fear of accusing Communist China for this leak, whether it was needing to get the FBI involved and what that might lead to down the line, whether it was the fact that millions of U.S. dollars had made their way … to Communist China … Interesting chart I have here [documenting] $3.7 million.”
That $3.7 million was awarded in 2014 to EcoHealth Alliance, a research firm that collaborated with Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study bat coronaviruses. An EcoHealth Alliance spokesperson says that, under the NIH definition of gain-of-function research, the firm did not support such research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is a fact, however, that Shi, a subcontractor of EcoHealth Alliance, worked with other scientists to manipulate bat coronaviruses to determine their potential to infect humans.
It is also a fact that two other Chinese research institutions, Wuhan University and Academy of Military Medical Sciences, also received substantial NIH funding. That is why congressional investigators are determined to find out if any taxpayers’ money was used for any dangerous gain- of-function research, engineering a pathogen that may have escaped and caused a global pandemic.
Lab Origin Gains Ground. Today, most Americans (66%, one poll finds), once tagged as “conspiracy theorists,” agree with senior analysts at the Department of Energy and the FBI that the pandemic probably originated in a Chinese lab, although U.S. intelligence agencies remain divided.
Curiously, as noted in a comprehensive Senate staff report sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as early as January 2020 Chinese citizens were among the very first to suspect a lab leak.
Shi, the top Wuhan scientist, told a foreign journalist that the deadly coronavirus might have escaped from her lab, though she quickly reversed herself. The Communist Chinese party line, after all, is that the pandemic didn’t originate in a lab.
Undeterred by the Biden administration’s unresponsiveness, plus the sheer difficulty inherent in the task, congressional investigators are not letting up in their efforts to get to the bottom of the origins of COVID-19.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, has asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to provide all related information (memos, notes, and other relevant documents) concerning Fauci’s teleconference with top virologists in early 2020.
In his letter to Becerra, Wenstrup requested delivery of the information by July 27. Another month has elapsed, and no response.
All Americans deserve to know the truth.
This article has been corrected to reflect that EcoHealthAlliance denies “support[ing] ‘gain-of-function’ research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” per a spokesman.
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