Follow Us

Federal secrets spill on COVID origins amid rodent research on risks of lab mods, vax in pregnancy

Fauci advisor who said he used Gmail to avoid FOIA allegedly denies bad behavior in congressional interview. "Autism-like behavior" observed in male rats whose pregnant mothers were given Pfizer COVID vaccine.

Published: January 19, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: January 20, 2024 11:38am

The National Institutes of Health appears to be struggling to hide its dirty laundry on COVID-19 origins against a rash of leaks, congressional probes, and Freedom of Information Act requests, even when officials are determined to thwart sunlight.

The ongoing exposure of their communications and actions isn't the only thing likely worrying federal scientists. 

Chinese researchers claim to have modified another animal virus that killed every humanized lab mouse it infected, while Turkish researchers said the male offspring of pregnant rats they inoculated with Pfizer's COVID vaccine exhibited "pronounced autism-like behaviors."

House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said he plans to dig through the "personal email account" for Dr. Anthony Fauci's senior scientific adviser at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, David Morens, following a six-hour transcribed interview Thursday with "limited obstruction."

Morens was supposed to testify just before the new year, but the Department of Health and Human Services refused to let him answer questions about COVID origins, Wenstrup said. HHS didn't answer Just the News queries about its initial objections and any conditions it set for the new interview.

"HHS continues to withhold requested documents and objected to various questions under questionable pretenses during the transcribed interview," subcommittee spokesperson Olive Coleman told Just the News when asked to elaborate on the "limited obstruction."

In 2021 Morens told other scientists trying to discredit the lab-leak theory, including one who said SARS-CoV-2 looked "potentially" engineered, that "I try to always communicate on Gmail because my NIH email is FOIA'D constantly" and that "I will delete anything I don't want to see in the New York Times." 

On Thursday, however, Morens "denied deleting any COVID-19 origins material or forwarding any federal records to his Gmail in an effort to avoid FOIA," Wenstrup said. "The Select Subcommittee has serious questions about the legitimacy of these claims."

NIH removed Morens from his position and put him on administrative leave after the subcommittee "revealed his potential federal records violation last year," Wenstrup said. 

His panel initially sought documents and communications from Morens' personal cellphone and email last summer, then subpoenaed the agency in the fall after "months of stonewalling" and a "lackluster production of documents."

The subcommittee has yet to release transcripts from interviews with Fauci, the former NIAID director, and former NIH Director Francis Collins, just select quotes and paraphrases. Both allegedly recanted their portrayals of lab-leak as a conspiracy theory. (The theory is that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.)

An animal-testing watchdog sued NIH earlier this month for allegedly stonewalling nearly four years of FOIA requests for documents relevant to its funding of the EcoHealth Alliance, the Wuhan Institute and gain-of-function research, which seeks to learn more about viruses but also makes them more lethal or transmissible.

The feds are also on the defensive after House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans published documents that show Beijing-based Institute of Pathogen Biology scientist Lili Ren uploaded a SARS-CoV-2 sequence to NIH's GenBank Dec. 28, 2019.

NIH deleted Ren's submission because it was "missing some of the technical (not scientific) information" that GenBank requires and Ren didn't respond to its followup, the committee said. It's older than another SARS-CoV-2 sequence posted to GenBank that NIH also deleted.

HHS acknowledges Ren's sequence was "nearly identical" to the one China shared two weeks later with the World Health Organization, the committee said. The Chinese Communist Party previously claimed it "informed the international community of the outbreak as soon as possible."

"This significant discovery further underscores why we cannot trust any of the so-called ‘facts’ or data provided by the CCP and calls into serious question the legitimacy of any scientific theories based on such information," said Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Health Subcommittee Chairman Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Morgan Griffith, R-Va.

Former Senate Finance Committee investigator Paul Thacker emphasized that Ren was on "Fauci's payroll" at the time because she was a co-investigator on the EcoHealth bat-coronavirus project funded by NIAID. He said NIH ignored multiple requests to tell him how much it paid Ren, whose salary and benefits are redacted from the grant. 

Not redacted: NIH paid for Ren's travel to the U.S. to meet with EcoHealth President Peter Daszak and University of North Carolina gain-of-function researcher Ralph Baric.

Baric covertly contributed to a peer-reviewed journal article in February 2020 that claims no "credible evidence" supports "laboratory engineering" of SARS-CoV-2. Fauci and Collins also covertly shaped the similar Proximal Origins paper dismissing lab-leak published the following month, earning the nickname "Bethesda Boys" from the listed authors.

Wenstrup's subcommittee flagged other notable disclosures by Morens, the Fauci adviser, in his interview. He allegedly characterized Daszak as a "close friend," in Wenstrup's words, while Daszak called Morens his "mentor" in an even longer subcommittee interview in November.

"Dr. Morens stood with 100% certainty behind the zoonotic origin of COVID-19" while admitting "he has not explored any of the scientific evidence behind a potential lab leak or an engineered virus," the subcommittee said.

Morens would have a tougher time dismissing a leak of a lab-modified pangolin virus detailed in a preprint paper, not yet peer-reviewed, posted Jan. 4 by Chinese researchers. 

"SARS-CoV-2-related pangolin coronavirus GX_P2V(short_3UTR) can cause 100% mortality in human ACE2-transgenic mice, potentially attributable to late-stage brain infection," they wrote, referring to mice genetically modified to make the ACE2 protein that SARS-CoV-2 targets.

All four humanized mice who were infected died in 7-8 days, the researchers said. "This underscores a spillover risk of GX_P2V into humans and provides a unique model for understanding the pathogenic mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2-related viruses."

Though the study is small and doesn't necessarily translate into more-complex human immune systems, the benefit of such lab-modified pathogens is vastly outweighed by the recurrence of "leaks and safety crises" in even the best-run labs, former drug industry reporter Alex Berenson wrote in his newsletter Tuesday.

He noted a young French researcher died in 2019 from a brain disease attributable to cutting herself years earlier while "cleaning a machine used to cut brain sections from mice infected with a version of mad-cow disease."

The Springer Nature journal Neurochemical Research published the COVID vaccine-pregnant rats paper Jan. 10. While both sexes of offspring were affected, males were hit harder, the Turkish researchers found.

The Pfizer vaccine "significantly alters WNT gene expression and BDNF levels in both male and female rats, suggesting a profound impact on key neurodevelopmental pathways," they wrote, referring to a "major family of signaling molecules" and a "key molecule involved in plastic changes related to learning and memory."

"Notably, male rats exhibited pronounced autism-like behaviors, characterized by a marked reduction in social interaction and repetitive patterns of behavior," the researchers found. 

"Furthermore, there was a substantial decrease in neuronal counts in critical brain regions, indicating potential neurodegeneration or altered neurodevelopment. Male rats also demonstrated impaired motor performance, evidenced by reduced coordination and agility."