Horseshoe bat flying with wings extended

Bats, Labs – Neither pandemic hypothesis is entirely credible

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was recently in the news for once again pillorying Dr. Anthony Fauci with questions on the COVID-19 pandemic. This time Senator Paul wanted to know whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology was conducting gain of function research, and whether the National Institutes of Health contributed funding to that research.

Dr. Fauci’s response was in essence no and no. This response is satisfactorily general. Underlying possibilities such as indirect funding and dissembling by Chinese authorities (or dissembling by anyone suddenly placed in a bind) are absent from the response.

Senator Paul’s rather theatrical statements at this hearing of the Senate’s committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions of May 11, 2021, contained some dubious assertions. However, his insistence on learning more about the origins of the pandemic and about any involvement U.S. government agencies may have had is exactly what is needed.

Lockstep narratives might be waning

The COVID-19 pandemic has now lasted 18 months. Guidance from health officials and government mandates have been draconian. A large portion of the U.S. public has accepted prescribed narratives. Suggestions that depart from prescribed narratives have been summarily dismissed as misinformation or conspiracy – or worse, censored out of existence.

Fortunately some, like Senator Paul, still have the audacity to question authority. Among the most notable critics of COVID-19 response are the epidemiologists and public health scientists that published the Barrington Declaration, questioning the wisdom of the lockdowns, in October of 2020. More recently, May 14, 2021, 18 virus and immunology experts published a letter in Science demanding more investigation and more transparency regarding the origins of COVID-19.

Under pressure, ruling elites sometimes relent. Kaiser Health News reported on May 19, 2021, that Dr. Anthony Fauci told them in an email that “we at the NIH are very much in favor of a thorough investigation as to the origins of SARS-CoV-2.”

A timeline without conclusions

Expressions of interest and information crumbs are a start, but hopefully those seeking the truth will get more than that. The web of participants, funding and risks has become very tangled. A timeline of reported events since 2011 contradicts many of today’s narratives.

2011 – National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) suppressed two studies involving H5N1 viruses that had been modified to allow airborne transmission over concerns that methods used could be replicated by bioterrorists.

2014 – Breaches of protocol occurred at US government laboratories. Several workers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were possibly exposed to anthrax. Vials of smallpox virus were not securely stored at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The CDC accidentally sent out samples of ordinary influenza virus contaminated with H5N1.

2014 – The Cambridge Working Group published Consensus Statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens, signed by over 200 scientists. The statement argued for a cessation of experiments involving gain of function studies that manipulate deadly viruses to increase their transmissibility or virulence, until a credible assessment of risks and benefits was created.

2014 – The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced cessation of any government funding for pathogenicity-enhancing gain of function research until the federal government completed a risk/benefit assessment and developed a new funding policy.

21017 – With new guidelines in place contain greater scrutiny, the White House lifted the ban on government funding for gain of function research.

2020 – The White House raised questions regarding EcoHealth Alliance’s research partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In April 2020, the NIH suspended funding of EcoHealth’s surveillance of coronaviruses borne by bats in China. The surveillance aimed to prevent transmission of the virus to humans and to aid in the development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs. The White House’s concern was that EcoAlliance had funneled portions of NIH grants to the Wuhan lab. In August 2020, the NIH reinstated funding to EcoHealth with the stipulation that EcoHealth provide data relating to WIV’s research on coronaviruses, a most unlikely possibility.

2021 – A World Health Organization team of scientists visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology with the intention of gathering enough data to determine if the lab was in any way responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. Although the lab issued statements of cooperation, it did not give the WHO team any meaningful data.

2021 – On May 11, Senate Committee met to hear Update from Federal Officials on Efforts to Combat COVID-19. Senator Rand Paul asks forceful questions regarding origins of the pandemic, gain of function research, and NIH funding for GOF. Dr. Anthony Fauci responded that the coronavirus evolved in bats, and the NIH never funded research at the WIV.

2021 – On May 19, 2021, Kaiser Health News published To the Bat Cave: In Search of Covid’s Origins, Scientists Reignite Polarizing Debate on Wuhan ‘Lab Leak.’ The article acknowledges the accepted hypotheses that the coronavirus arose through natural mutations as it spread from bats to humans. But also notes the alternative theory that the virus escaped from the WIV, possibly after pathological enhancements.

The lab leak hypothesis has picked up more adherents as time passes and scientists fail to detect a bat or other animal infected with a virus that has COVID’s signature genetics. By contrast, within a few months of the start of the 2003 SARS pandemic, scientists found the culprit coronavirus in animals sold in Chinese markets. But samples from 80,000 animals to date have failed to turn up a virus pointing to the origins of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID.

Safety and clarity can only come from good information

The COVID-19 experience has been devastating. It is desirable to avoid a similar experience in the future as best we can.

Virologists say that one way to get a jump on pandemics is to know how pathogens behave when mutations increase virulence and transmissibility. Gain of function experiments can produce such mutations in a laboratory.

Virologists also know that if these enhanced viruses escape from a laboratory, the pandemic they were trying to avoid could wreak global havoc.

A credible origin of COVID-19 – be the origin a sick bat at a market or a lapse of protocol at a lab — could help improve safety standards. For that we need more open minds not wedded to prescribed narratives, and more effective investigative strategies what we have seen so far.