Whistleblower sues to get NIH to release info on China request to scrub COVID info from database

Genetic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are critical to understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic started, the group argues

Updated: November 18, 2021 - 10:10am

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The whistleblower group Empower Oversight has filed a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health to try to get the agency to comply with its Freedom of Information Act by releasing documents related to a request by Chinese researchers to remove genetic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a NIH-controlled database.

In July, the nonpartisan whistleblower and research group submitted a detailed FOIA request to the NIH seeking records concerning the agency reportedly agreeing to the Chinese researchers' request. 

Genetic sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are critical to understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic started. The pandemic has killed more than 760,000 Americans, the group argues.

"NIH’s failure to safeguard such genetic sequence information is of utmost public interest in light of China’s failure to cooperate with efforts to discover the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus," the group also said Wednesday, when the suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. 

In June and September, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa; Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee, and Roger Marshall, of Kansas, submitted letters on the issue of the scrubbing of SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequences -- demanding answers from NIH.

In September, Empower Oversight filed two more FOIA requests seeking records of NIH's inadequate response to those Senate oversight efforts, as well as information on its response to FOIA requests generally.

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