Scientists react as NIH chief Francis Collins calls Wuhan lab leak theories ‘misinformation’
Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), wrote a statement refuting “misinformation” about the origins of COVID-19, focusing specifically on federally funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
The WIV has been at the center of theories about COVID lab leaks throughout the pandemic, in part due to its proximity to the Chinese city where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.
Theories have gained traction this year, especially after international governments expressed concerns about the World Health Organization’s initial investigation into the origins of the pandemic, which ruled that a scenario of laboratory leak was “extremely unlikely”.
The theory is seen as a possibility today following an independent investigation by the Biden administration that specifically looked at whether SARS-CoV-2 could have been accidentally released from a lab, but ultimately returned no conclusive.
In addition, leaked documents also described the relationship between the WIV and the U.S. research group EcoHealth Alliance, the latter of which provided WIV with federal funds via a sub-grant.
Critics, such as the research activist group COVID DRASTIC, believe the documents show risky research practices surrounding the development of coronaviruses for study.
Collins, who is due to step down as director of the NIH before the end of the year, released a statement regarding the reports and theories about the lab leaks on Wednesday.
âUnfortunately, in the absence of a definitive answer, disinformation and disinformation fill the void, which does more harm than good,â he wrote.
Collins said it was “not unusual” for the origins of the virus to be difficult to trace, noting that it took scientists 14 years to find the bat population linked to the 2003 SARS outbreak. and that the origin of the 2014 Ebola epidemic has still not been traced. .
He wrote that the natural bat coronaviruses studied by WIV under federal grants “are genetically very distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not have caused the COVID-19 pandemic,” and that ” Scientific evidence to date indicates that the virus is likely the result of viral evolution in nature, potentially jumping directly to humans. “
The statement has been scrutinized by critics. Dr Filippa Lentzos, Senior Lecturer in Science and International Security at King’s College London, said News week there is “no hard evidence” behind the theories about the natural or research-related origin of COVID.
âMisinformation about the origins of the pandemic is a significant problem, but this statement simply muddies the waters,â she said. “Collins’ statement should have recognized the possibility of a biosafety breach during scientific research, such as a direct spillover onto humans when sampling bats in caves or when handling bats or viruses in the laboratory. “
Jeremy Rossman, Honorary Lecturer in Virology at the University of Kent, said News week it is “not surprising” that there is not yet a definitive answer regarding the origins of COVID, as the investigation “is a very difficult undertaking which can take many years”.
Jonathan Stoye, senior group leader at the UK retrovirus-host interactions laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, said News week he doubted that Collins’ statement would change the views of diehard supporters of lab leaks.
“I’m not sure this NIH statement will change such a point of view; on the contrary, it might harden opinions,” he said. “Instead, we need a detailed examination of the different laboratory leak hypotheses, asking whether the steps required for virus escape can be confirmed or eliminated from consideration.”
Richard Ebright, a vocal critic of the EcoHealth Alliance-WIV research, called the statement “pathetic” in a tweet, highlighting what he called “false claims by Collins and Fauci that the NIH did not fund research on the gain of office in Wuhan. “
News week reached out to NIH for comment on Ebright’s tweet.