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NIAID website belies longtime director Fauci's claim to have urged 'open mind' on COVID origin

Institute's unattributed explainer insists "chimeric viruses" studied at Wuhan lab "were so far distant from an evolutionary standpoint from SARS-CoV-2 that they could not have possibly been the source of SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 pandemic."

Anthony Fauci, May 11
Dr. Anthony Fauci during Senate testimony, May 11, 2021.
(Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

Published: March 17, 2023 2:51pm

Updated: March 27, 2023 12:36pm

Weeks after a second Department of Energy lab joined the FBI in asserting the lab-leak theory is the most likely explanation for COVID-19's emergence, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases still maintains that anyone who questions the natural-origin theory is rejecting science.

The National Institutes of Health component led by Anthony Fauci for four decades has not updated its page on "SARS-CoV-2 and NIAID-supported Bat Coronavirus Research" since its apparent creation 17 months ago.

Its finger-wagging insistence on natural origin contradicts Fauci's belated claim to have "stated repeatedly that we must keep an open mind" on the possibility of a lab leak, which he deemed a conspiracy theory from the start.

"This has been the public position of former NIAID Director Fauci for three years," Richard Ebright, lab director at Rutgers University's Waskman Institute of Microbiology and a vocal critic of Fauci, told Just the News when shown the unchanged NIAID page.

Fauci has not only made the assertion in May 11, July 24 and Nov. 4, 2021 Senate hearings "as part of his untruthful responses to questions from Senator Rand Paul about gain-of-function research and enhanced potential pandemic pathogen research," Ebright wrote in an email, but in several interviews deployed the "scientifically meaningless" phrase "molecularly impossible."

The former NIAID director also muddied the waters in a recent CNN interview by declaring that even a lab leak would qualify as a "natural occurrence" if someone "in the wild" got infected, "went into a lab" to study viruses "and then came out of the lab."

The NIAID page was devised in response to questions about NIH's possible role in COVID's emergence through EcoHealth Alliance grants that funded Wuhan Institute of Virology research, and was last reviewed Oct. 20, 2021. Just the News could find no earlier archived versions.

The "chimeric viruses" the lab studied, a combination of the "well-characterized bat coronavirus" WIV1-CoV and "various spike proteins" from other bat viruses, "were so far distant from an evolutionary standpoint from SARS-CoV-2 that they could not have possibly been the source of SARS-CoV-2 or the COVID-19 pandemic," the unattributed explainer says.

"The body of the scientific data from this [federal] award including the bat coronavirus sequences published in the scientific literature and public databases makes this conclusion readily apparent to anyone with experience in and knowledge of virus phylogeny and evolutionary biology," it concludes.

Neither NIH nor NIAID responded to Just the News queries about the continuing unchanged page's implication that the FBI and Department of Energy are ignorant in their conclusions.

NIAID apparently issued the explainer the same day Lawrence Tabak, now NIH's acting director, told Congress the Wuhan researchers inadvertently enhanced a bat coronavirus. Ebright characterized this as an admission Tabak, Fauci and then-NIH Director Francis Collins lied to Congress in their repeated denials of funding gain-of-function research.

Tabak passed the buck to EcoHealth for allegedly hiding the accident for years, but the nonprofit responded by providing hard evidence of its April 2018 submission disclosing the enhancement to the agency.

NIAID's explainer drew attention at the time from experts, including MIT Broad Institute adviser Alina Chan, who marveled at the agency's claim that "the -exact- viruses used in the -exact- experiments described in the literature" and disclosed in Freedom of Information Act documents didn't create SARS-CoV-2.

Natural-origin proponents are seizing on a new Atlantic report claiming to unveil "the strongest evidence yet" for an animal reservoir — reanalysis of genetic sequences from Wuhan's Huanan market that suggest illegally sold raccoon dogs "could have been carrying and possibly shedding" SARS-CoV-2.

Experts including Ebright immediately questioned the purported blockbuster. Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, called the evidence "underwhelming."

"There is essentially no dispute that racoon [sic] dogs were on sale at the market pre-pandemic," Balloux wrote in a tweet thread. The evidence they played an early role in COVID spread "would be far more compelling if the samples with high SC2 read content were preferentially those also containing racoon [sic] dog reads."

Even as The New York Times followed up the Atlantic report, it told readers the "jumbling together of genetic material" from SARS-CoV-2 and the animal doesn't necessarily mean a raccoon dog was infected or could have spread the virus to humans.

The international research team that did the reanalysis includes longtime and vocal natural-origin proponents, such as Kristian Andersen, who initially told Fauci COVID looks "potentially" engineered before reversing himself, and Angela Rasmussen and Stephen Goldsmith, who warned that entertaining lab-leak could harm U.S.-China relations.

Goldsmith told the NYT their analysis wasn't supposed to come out before a formal report. He admitted "we don't have an infected animal" or proof "there was an infected animal at that stall" and said the stability of viral genetic material meant they couldn't determine how old it was.

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