Dr. Robert Redfield on CNN: “I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory— you know, escaped.”
That was followed by a flurry of media reports ridiculing the notion; insisting that Covid-19 probably jumped from bats to people through an unexplained, natural route. But there’s new information that hasn’t been widely reported. A sizable segment of the research community has formed the same opinion as Dr. Redfield: that Covid-19 leaked from experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
Jamie Metzl, World Health Organization International Advisory Committee on Human Genome Editing: “There are scientists all around the world who have told me that they believe the most likely origin of COVID-19, of the pandemic, is an accidental lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Jamie Metzl is a member of the World Health Organization International Advisory Committee on Human Genome Editing.
Sharyl (to Metzl): “What have you been told, and what have you found about scientists who feel like they can't step forward?”
Metzl: “Many of these people are afraid to step forward. They've called it career suicide, because there are so many contentious issues, because the stakes are so high. Because the Chinese government, in collaboration, or conjunction, or maybe not even association, but with some very high-level and prominent scientists have put forward this story that I think is wrong.”
Two scientists with knowledge of the matter told me the U.S. government conducted genome sequencing almost immediately in the pandemic. Among other things, they say Covid-19 shows clear hallmarks of man’s intervention.
French virologist Luc Montagnier, a Nobel Prize recipient, arrived at the same conclusion a year ago. He says Covid-19’s genetics reveal “manipulation.” “Someone added sequences,” he said. “It’s the work of professionals, of molecular biologists…a very meticulous work.”
Genetic analysis alone isn’t 100% conclusive, because results must be compared to viruses from the Wuhan lab. And sources confirm: “We never got the sample from China.”
But scientists who spoke with me say genome sequencing, coupled with what’s known about research conducted by a U.S.-Chinese partnership, leaves them with little doubt that Covid-19 is a product of experiments.
The scientists I talked to don’t want to be quoted by name for fear of repercussions in today’s politically-charged environment. They're highly critical that a U.S. research collaboration was allowed with China— a communist nation that has an active bioweapons program and, is arguably, our biggest world competitor and foe.
Scientists from the U.S. and the Wuhan lab joined up on experiments that involved making bat coronavirus more infectious, to try to invent a vaccine.
It’s called “gain of function” research, and it’s controversial because it could create a lethal virus that escapes and causes a pandemic. So risky, the U.S. temporarily halted such studies in 2014.
But an exception was made. The “gain of function” research underway by the U.S. and Wuhan scientists was “reviewed and approved for continued study by [the National Institutes of Health.]” or “NIH.”
NIH didn’t only approve the research, it paid for it with six grants of tax dollars, including from the “National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,” led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
More taxpayer money from Fauci's institute and the U.S. Agency for International Development was funneled to the coronavirus research with China through EcoHealth Alliance, a New York based nonprofit led by Peter Daszak, a zoologist who specializes in viruses transmitted from animals to people.
Also working on the research, Ralph Baric at the University of North Carolina. His work centered on genetically manipulating coronavirus in part to allow for “rapid and rational development…[of]…vaccines and therapeutics.”
Together, they teamed up with the renowned Chinese virologist nicknamed “bat woman,” at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Shi Zhingli. They engineered genetic hybrids of bat coronaviruses, successfully getting them to infect human airway cells grafted in mice.
Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance: “You can manipulate them in the lab pretty easily…”
Daszak talked about the collaboration in this interview just before the Covid-19 outbreak. He said the team’s research was designed to stop coronavirus from crossing into people, and to help develop a vaccine for the resulting illness: SARS.
Peter Daszak: “The logical progression for vaccines is, if you’re going to develop a vaccine for SARS, people are going to use Pandemic SARS, but let’s try to insert some of these related, and get a better vaccine.”
As far back as 2015, numerous independent scientists objected to the “gain of function” research with China. In a published paper, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris (Simon Wain-Hobson) noted the research had produced an engineered novel coronavirus that “grows remarkably well” in human cells and “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory.” A biodefense expert (Richard Ebright, Molecular biologist, Rutgers University) added: “The only impact of this work is the creation, in a lab, of a new, non-natural risk.”
In 2018, the year before China's outbreak, U.S. State Department science diplomats visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They said the research conducted on bat coronaviruses was critically important. But they were so concerned about safety issues at the lab, they dispatched sensitive cables to Washington D.C. warning that the work posed a possible risk of a new SARS-like pandemic. Josh Rogin at the Washington Post later obtained and published the cables.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Obviously, there are a number of theories…”
For his part, Fauci responded to Redfield’s opinion— that Covid-19 escaped from the Wuhan lab— without addressing his agency’s funding of research at issue.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “So Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility. But again there are other alternatives, others that most people hold by.”
Fauci declined our interview request. So did Baric, the researcher at the University of North Carolina as did Daszak— the researcher who leads EcoHealth Alliance. On Twitter, Daszak called the idea that Covid-19 links to his research— “rabbit hole conspiracies.”
“The same gang of right wing media outlets are also posting fraudulent claims about my work,” Daszak tweeted. “Pure politics w/out a care for how this ultimately puts public health at risk.”
Despite Daszak’s research partnership with Wuhan lab scientists, the World Health Organization raised eyebrows by inviting him to help investigate the origins of Covid-19. That team recently issued a report saying it's “extremely unlikely” the virus came from a lab.
Sharyl to Metzl: “Do you have any idea who was behind the effort in the United States to controversialize the mere asking of the question about whether it came from a lab early on?”
Metzl: “Absolutely. I have repeatedly called for Peter Daszak to be removed from the WHO Organized International Advisory Committee looking into the origins of the pandemic, and the reason why I have done so is Peter has a tremendous conflict of interest as someone through his organization, the EcoHealth Alliance, who is a significant funder of Gain of Function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Metzl says Daszak and EcoHealth Alliance were a driving force behind efforts to discredit questions about a lab origin of Covid-19 as “crackpot theories.”
They helped orchestrate a letter signed by prominent scientists labeling talk of lab origins as “conspiracy theories.” Their own ties to the Chinese lab in question were omitted.
Metzl: “This letter was considered at the time, very credible. There were a number of Nobel laureates who signed it. And only later did it come out through a Freedom of Information request that the entire process had been managed and manipulated, and it really took the better part of a year.”
As the question is debated, five scientists who spoke with me said the sensitive U.S. research with China should never have been allowed.
One source, a medical doctor, says it was “irresponsible” to “partner with China on how to make [coronavirus] more infectious.” Another, also a medical doctor and biodefense expert says, “Hell, no, it’s not a good idea…[China has] an active bioweapons program, a very good one…and you’re going to cooperate with them on gain of function research? Somebody’s IQ dropped sharply when that decision was made.”
Shi, of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has been firm in her denial of anything to do with Covid-19 calling the virus, “nature’s punishment on the human race.” “I swear on my own life that the virus has no connection with the laboratory,” Shi said in a statement. “To those people who believe in and are spreading the rumours perpetrated by third-rate media outlets… I would like to give this advice: Shut your dirty mouths!"