Covid lab leak fears : Federal report says NIH failed to keep tabs on Wuhan lab

The NIH was blasted today by an official watchdog for failing to keep tabs on US-sponsored virus experiments in China, which are feared to have caused the Covid crisis.

A report by the US Office of Inspector General found the country’s medical research agency did not properly review whether the tests in Wuhan involved dangerous pathogens with pandemic potential.

The federal audit looked at three taxpayer-funded research grants awarded to the now-notorious EcoHealth Alliance, run by British scientist Peter Daszak, between 2014 and 2021.

It found the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and EcoHealth failed to ‘understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action’.

‘With improved oversight, NIH may have been able to take more timely corrective actions to mitigate the inherent risks associated with this type of research,’ the report adds.

Virologist Shi Zheng-li – nicknamed the ‘Bat Lady’ – is pictured in the lab. She hunted down dozens of deadly Covid-like viruses in bat caves and studied them at the WIV

Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists

Pictured: The Wuhan Institute of Virology, where crucial data was wiped by Chinese scientists

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. Studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbour Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

The question of whether the global outbreak began with a spillover from wildlife sold at the market or leaked out of the Wuhan lab just eight miles across the Yangtze River has given rise to fierce debate about how to prevent the next pandemic. New studies point to a natural spillover at the Huanan wildlife market. Positive swab samples of floors, cages and counters also track the virus back to stalls in the southwestern corner of the market (bottom left), where animals with the potential to harbor Covid were sold for meat or fur at the time (bottom right)

While the lab leak theory was initially dismissed as conspiracy and xenophobic, a growing number of scientists have come round to the idea the virus may have escaped during an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The research facility is located less than 10 miles away from an animal slaughter market where the first series of human cases were clustered and was known to be experimenting on coronaviruses closely related to Covid.

The WIV was one of eight research facilities awarded subcontracts by EcoHealth between 2014 and 2021.

Today’s audit said there was a lack of oversight by the NIH and EcoHealth at the Chinese lab and other research facilities that benefitted from Government grants.

The report said: ‘Despite identifying potential risks associated with research being performed under the EcoHealth awards, we found that NIH did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth’s compliance with some requirements.

‘Although NIH and EcoHealth had established monitoring procedures, we found deficiencies in complying with those procedures limited NIH and EcoHealth’s ability to effectively monitor federal grant awards and subawards to understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action.

‘Using its discretion, NIH did not refer the research to HHS for an outside review for enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) because it determined the research did not involve and was not reasonably anticipated to create, use, or transfer an ePPP.

‘Based on these findings, we conclude that NIH missed opportunities to more effectively monitor research.’

The NIH’s branch responsible for monitoring this research is the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which was led by Dr Anthony Fauci up until the end of 2022.

The enhanced potential pandemic pathogen (ePPP) research protocols went into place in 2017 in an effort to evaluate the potential risks of ‘gain-of-function’ research.

In 2014, the Obama administration banned research that enhanced viruses’ infectiousness or potential danger to humans.

These regulations were lifted in 2017, allowing gain-of-function only with expressed supervision after meeting rigorous standards.

According to the NIH, the research is only allowed when there is a ‘compelling’ public health need – and only in biosecure laboratories.

‘[The] research requires strict oversight and may only be conducted with appropriate biosafety and biosecurity measures.’ the agency writes in its guidelines.

‘…While such research is inherently risky and requires strict oversight, the risk of not doing this type of research and not being prepared for the next pandemic is also high.’

The investigators found the NIH did not refer three grants given to EcoHealth for outside review to make sure they met with ePPP guidelines.

This is because the report says, the agency did not believe this type of research was going to take place using the funds.

Investigators cited three awards by EcoHealth as having the potential to be gain-of-function research.

The OIG report cites three specific awards from EcoHealth, using NIH funds, that had the potential to be gain-of-function research but did not go through proper clearances. Included is the award to the WIV, which has been at the center of the lab leak theory

The OIG report cites three specific awards from EcoHealth, using NIH funds, that had the potential to be gain-of-function research but did not go through proper clearances. Included is the award to the WIV, which has been at the center of the lab leak theory

The May 27, 2014 award of $3.7million to the WIV has been at the center of the lab-leak theory.

Titled ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence’, some have speculated that this research created the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

An award of $3million to the University of North Carolina on June 17, 2020, was cited by investigators too. The research in question was titled ‘Understanding Risk of Zoonotic Virus Emergence in EID Hotspots of Southeast Asia’.

A $1.1million award to the International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh on September 15, 2020 for research titled ‘Study of Nipah virus dynamics and genetics in its bat reservoir and of human exposure to NiV across Bangladesh to understand patterns of human outbreaks’ was also cited.

The report cites increased concerns with the grants given internationally, as foreign entities could become uncooperative with investigators – like the WIV has in recent years.

‘Compounding these longstanding challenges are risks that may limit effective oversight of foreign subrecipients, which often depends on cooperation between the recipient and subrecipient, and the countries in which the research is performed,’ the report reads.

‘Although WIV cooperated with EcoHealth’s monitoring for several years, WIV’s lack of cooperation following the COVID-19 outbreak limited EcoHealth’s ability to monitor its subrecipient.’

British researcher Dr Peter Daszak's (left) role in facilitating risky coronavirus research in China with funding from Dr Fauci (right) and the NIH have been detailed in a report

British researcher Dr Peter Daszak’s (left) role in facilitating risky coronavirus research in China with funding from Dr Fauci (right) and the NIH have been detailed in a report

Dr Richard Ebright, a biologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told DailyMail.com:  ‘Both of these conclusions demonstrate major failures in past NIH oversight of high-risk research on enhanced potential pandemic pathogens and underscore the need for both accountability for failures in past NIH oversight and strengthening of future NIH oversight.’

Justin Goodman, from the White Coat Waste Project group, said: ‘This audit confirms what we have been documenting since early 2020 when we first exposed NIH’s funding of the Wuhan lab: EcoHealth Alliance shipped tax dollars to Wuhan for dangerous animal experiments that probably caused the pandemic, violated federal laws and policies and wasted tax dollars.

‘Yet, the Wuhan lab remains eligible for even more taxpayer money for animal tests and just since the pandemic began, EcoHealth has raked in at least $46 million in new federal funds from the DOD, USAID, NIH, and NSF.

‘As the group that first exposed and ended EcoHealth’s calamitous collaboration with the Wuhan animal lab, we’re calling on Congress to defund these rogue organizations once and for all.

‘Taxpayers should not be forced to bankroll reckless white coats who waste money, break the law and place public health in peril. Stop the money, stop the madness.’

Dr Ebright shared concerns over EcoHealth’s continued funding too, saying: ‘Despite [EcoHealth] possibly having caused the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite definitely having repeatedly and gravely violated terms of a US-government grant, currently has 12 active US-government grants and contracts, totaling more than $34 million.’

More to follow.




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