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Sunday, February 25th, 2024

House Republicans press NIH and NIAID for further details on Wuhan Lab biosafety concerns

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Francis Collins

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week queried the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Francis Collins, with more questions in the saga of the Chinese Wuhan Institute of Virology, its research and the origins of COVID-19.

Writers included House E&C Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Health Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Republican Leader Morgan Griffith (R-VA). In their letter, they raised concerns that the NIH has not been performing proper oversight of a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) grant awarded to the nonprofit EcoHeath Alliance.

“The grant was awarded to the nonprofit organization, EcoHealth Alliance, that funneled NIH funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to conduct research on bat coronaviruses,” the lawmakers wrote. “In our July 21, 2021, letter to you, we requested that the NIH provide staff briefings with Dr. Ping Chen and Dr. Erik Stemmy, NIAID officials involved with this grant and responsibility for oversight of the WIV. Unfortunately, the NIH has ignored this request. In addition to potentially inadequately assessing the inherent risks of the WIV research supported by NIH’s grant, we are also concerned that the NIH failed to oversee biosafety concerns at the WIV.”

The WIV is an assortment of laboratories in Wuhan that deal with various biosafety concerns, all the way up to Biosafety Level 4, deemed the most secure. However, Republicans accused researchers there of performing coronavirus research in level two laboratories, meaning ones of insufficient safety capability. Concerns from some corners have long accused the labs of having created the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the source of COVID-19, although many scientists continue to agree on natural origins for the virus.

The topic has proved a point of serious contention between the U.S. and China. Until May, most experts had dismissed the theory of a lab leak out of hand, but at that time, President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day probe into the origins of the COVID-19 virus. China has hit back, in turn accusing the U.S. of having created the virus.

Republican House leaders have expressed concern over biosafety concerns of the whole situation, and questioned whether the NIH properly assessed any such concerns before allowing U.S. taxpayer funds to support research efforts. As a result, they have once again asked Collins a series of questions regarding safety, staffing and prior knowledge — and requested answers by Sept. 7, 2021. They also demanded briefings from NIAID officials Dr. Ping Chen and Dr. Erik Stemmy.