Politics Health watchdog is investigating NIH grants amid mounting Wuhan lab questions
Why questions still linger on the origin of the coronavirus
A lack of transparency from Chinese officials and looming geopolitical consequences have damaged the credibility of a WHO-led inquiry into how the virus that causes COVID-19 originated. Lesley Stahl reports.The question: how did SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, originate? Among the leading theories examined: was it accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan or did it come from infected animals in a wet market there?
The top watchdog for the Department of Health and Human Services has launched an investigation into the National Institutes of Health’s research funding following calls from Republicans to scrutinize funds ending up at the .
The NIH’s RePORTERsaid the agency has provided $15.2 million to the EcoHealth Alliance over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence, and , the leader of EcoHealth and a key member of the World Health Organization-China joint study team, maintained a long collaborative relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, steering at least $600,000 in NIH funding to that lab for bat coronavirus research.
Social Media Companies, Fact Checkers Shrug Off Wuhan Lab Leak Embarrassment
Some social media companies and fact checkers are backtracking on their earlier positions about the Wuhan lab leak theory, which President Biden said last month requires further investigation.An explosive series of reported features published in late May and early June documented the shift among social media companies and fact checkers as the Wuhan lab leak theory, once dismissed as a far-right conspiracy theory, was folded back into the public discourse as worthy of investigation.
The HHS inspector general’s office, led by principal deputy inspector general Christi Grimm, announced ainto whether the NIH and the groups it has been funding have been following the law, noting the NIH is the main federal agency conducting and supporting medical research and that it funds “grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts that support the advancement of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems.” The HHS watchdog said that “approximately 80 percent of NIH funding goes to support research grants, including grants and subawards to support research conducted outside the United States” and that the inspector general’s office “has previously identified NIH's oversight of grants to foreign applicants as a potential risk to the Department meeting program goals and the appropriate use of federal funds.”
The Lab-Leak Trap
Recent coverage has ensnared readers in semantic quibbles, side points, and distractions. To focus better on what really matters, watch out for these traps:The No-Evidence TrapIt would be confusing—merely confusing—if no one could agree on the strength of the evidence for a laboratory accident. But certain pundits have suggested that we’re still completely in the dark.
“NIH must manage and administer federal awards to ensure that federal funding is expended and associated programs are implemented in full accordance with statutory and public policy requirements. To do so, NIH must monitor grantee performance and grantee use of NIH funds. Grantees are responsible for complying with all requirements of the federal award, including maintaining effective internal controls over the federal award,” the HHS watchdog said. “Grantees that function as pass-through entities must monitor the activities of subrecipients, including foreign subrecipients, to ensure that subawards are used for authorized purposes in compliance with relevant laws and the terms and conditions of the subaward. We will review NIH's monitoring of selected grants, and grantee use and management of NIH grant funds in accordance with federal requirements.”
Is China to Blame for a Hypothetical Lab Leak?
The epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch explains that the risky virus research done at the Wuhan Institute has complex rootsProminent scientists long on the sideline, like Scott Gottlieb and Peter Hotez, have begun echoing calls for a deeper investigation. Both the National Security Council and the Director of National Intelligence have made a point of emphasizing their agreement with the previous administration that the pandemic’s origins are a very open — and very important — question.
The HHS report is expected to be released next year.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins arein insisting the NIH gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, but they also admit they don’t actually know what the secretive Chinese lab has been up to.
HHS watchdog communications director Tesia Williams told the Washington Examiner that “the potential lack of compliance and potential lack of oversight of NIH grant funds is an issue we have been monitoring for some time” and “we consider it a high-priority matter that needs attention, therefore, we decided to conduct an audit.”
Williams also said, “This review focuses on how NIH monitored selected grants and how the grantees and subgrantees used and managed federal funds, in accordance with federal requirements, between years 2014 through 2021” but said, “We generally don’t provide details about our audits until we publish the final report” when asked whether its review will specifically include a review of EcoHealth’s grants or the subawards to the Wuhan lab.
Evidence mounts Wuhan lab studied live bats despite denials
Evidence that includes newly unearthed Chinese government video continues to mount indicating the Wuhan Institute of Virology studied live bats in its lab, despite longtime lab collaborator Peter Daszak calling this a “conspiracy theory."Footage obtained and released by the Australian and Sky News was purportedly shot from inside the Wuhan lab and shows live bats kept in cages. The video was reportedly produced and released by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2017 to tout the opening and launch of the Wuhan lab’s then-new biosafety level four laboratory.
The Trump and Biden administrationson the joint study by Chinese government-linked scientists and international scientists organized under the auspices of the WHO that was conducted early this year. The WHO- report said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and that a jump from animals to animals to humans was most likely.
In February, more than two dozen Republican House membersthe HHS watchdog investigate the NIH’s response to concerns raised about taxpayer-funded research at the Wuhan lab.
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, sent ato the HHS watchdog in March, arguing “the Stevens Amendment guarantees that hard working taxpayers can see how their dollars are being spent and decide for themselves whether or not the price is right” and that “a review of EcoHealth Alliance’s press releases and published studies over the past several years demonstrates a total disregard for the Stevens Amendment requirements” and called for an inspector general investigation.
Last month, the Senatean amendment from Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, prohibiting the NIH and other federal agencies from funding gain-of-function research in China and passed another by Ernst U.S. federal funding from going to the Wuhan lab. Ernst a bill this week that would “cut off all funding to any organization — like EcoHealth — that refuses to provide information about a project or fails to obey federal laws.”
Top Trump officials pushed the Covid-19 lab-leak theory. Investigators had doubts.
New documents and interviews show how the president and his senior aides cherry-picked evidence and sidelined the government’s own virus sleuths.The messaging campaign began as a concerted effort to push back against China, which was attempting to blame the United States for the spread of the virus. In documents and cables newly obtained by POLITICO, officials shared talking points emphasizing that even Beijing’s own communications acknowledged the outbreak began in China’s Wuhan Province.
The NIH has said the grant to EcoHealth was “terminated” on April 24, 2020, but “reinstated” on July 8, 2020. ShiNature magazine in August that the NIH’s actions were “outrageous,” and Daszak said it was “extremely frustrating.”
Fauciin August the awarding of $17 million in grants for a “global network” to investigate “how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife and spillover to cause disease in people.” One out of the 11 “principal investigator” grantees was Daszak. EcoHealth in August that it had received $7.5 million over five years from the NIAID.
After a pause in 2014, HHSthe Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight Framework in 2017, which was ostensibly set up to review any grants that might involve gain-of-function research. But the 2019 renewal of EcoHealth grants was not subjected to the P3CO review.
Richard Ebright, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, told the Washington Examiner in May “the Wuhan lab used NIH funding to construct novel chimeric SARS-related coronavirus with the ability to infect human cells and laboratory animals” and that “the research was — unequivocally — gain of function research.”
Senate Republicans arethe leaders of HHS and the NIH to hand over records related to the origins of COVID-19 and the Wuhan lab following within emails from Fauci indicating he worked to promote the natural origins hypothesis.
The U.S. intelligence communityat least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and President Joe Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” their investigative efforts last month.
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Wuhan lab collaborator recused from Lancet’s COVID-19 origins investigation .
Peter Daszak, a longtime collaborator with the Wuhan Institute of Virology who steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in National Institutes of Health funding to the Chinese lab, has been recused from a COVID-19 origins investigation run by a commission organized under the auspices of the Lancet medical journal. © Provided by Washington Examiner The Lancet COVID-19 Commission, which will “focus on analyzing data on all of the theories put forward on the origins of COVID," stated on its website that Daszak, who had been listed as a chairman of the origins task force as early as December, is now “recused from Commission work on th