The Washington Post editorial board on Tuesday called on EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak to testify before Congress and face questions on his organization’s use of taxpayer funds to conduct gain-of-function experiments at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.
Following revelations that EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of a National Institutes of Health grant by failing to report the results of an experiment that artificially made a virus more lethal, the Washington Post editorial board said Daszak needed to testify about his work with the Wuhan lab and answer questions about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daszak’s group EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that studies emerging diseases, partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and one of its scientists, Shi Zhengli, for a five-year research program funded by NIH to study bat coronaviruses and the potential risk of one of these viruses being transmitted to humans and causing a pandemic like COVID-19.
There are two main hypotheses that explain the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first, supported by most scientists and based on historical examples, is that the virus naturally leapt from an animal host to a human, possibly through an intermediary host. The second is that a genetically-modified virus was leaked or somehow escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a world-renowned center for studying bat coronaviruses located just 20 miles away from the first major outbreak of COVID-19.
There is evidence for and against both hypotheses and scientists have not conclusively ruled out either theory. However, Daszak and other prominent public health scientists and government officials have aggressively pushed back against the lab-leak hypothesis, claiming it is a “conspiracy theory” promoted by individuals with possibly xenophobic or racial prejudice against Chinese scientists at the Wuhan lab.
NIH Director Francis Collins and his subordinate, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have also vigorously denied funding “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan lab — research involving experiments that artificially make viruses more transmissible among humans.
The Chinese government and scientists at the Wuhan lab have likewise denied that COVID-19’s origins had anything to do with the work done at that lab.
However, the Post editorial board acknowledges that last week’s revelation that EcoHealth Alliance violated the terms of its NIH grant by failing to report experiments conducted at the Wuhan lab that artificially made a virus more infectious raises new questions about the work done by Daszak’s group.
Last week, it was disclosed that the EcoHealth Alliance in August filed a report on its research in 2018-2019 — the report was two years late. This just happens to be the two-year period of the pandemic and intense debate about the virus origins. No reason has been given. Mr. Daszak did not respond to our query. The tardy report describes experiments, approved in advance by the NIH, to test the infectivity of the genetically-manipulated viruses on mice with cells resembling those of the human respiratory system. The manipulations made the viruses more lethal to the mice. Although the NIH continues to insist this did not fit the definition of “gain of function” research, and could not have led to the pandemic strain, it certainly should have met the U.S. government’s own requirements for stricter oversight.
The editorial board said “unanswered questions” remain about Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance, and the Wuhan lab, questions that he must answer before Congress.
But unanswered questions keep emerging about Mr. Daszak and the WIV. He was at the center of public debate over virus origins, the only American appointed to the joint World Health Organization-China mission. Why did he not disclose his 2018 proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for research on bat coronaviruses with the WIV and others, which called for engineering a modification onto spike proteins of chimeric viruses that would make them infect human cells in the way the pandemic strain did? What does he know about the databases of viruses that WIV took offline in 2019 and never brought back? Does he know what research the WIV may have done on its own, during or after their collaboration? What was being done at WIV in the months before the pandemic?
Mr. Daszak must answer these questions before Congress. His grants were federal funds, and it is entirely appropriate for Congress to insist on accountability and transparency. He might also help the world understand what really happened in Wuhan.
House Republicans in August released a report calling Daszak the “public face” of a Chinese “disinformation campaign designed to suppress public discussion about a potential lab leak.” They have demanded that he be subpoenaed to testify to Congress, but so far no Democrats have moved to do so.