While blaming China exclusively for COVID-19’s apparent emergence in Wuhan, US authorities have suppressed inquiries into the role that US scientific research institutions may have played in creating the conditions for the pandemic. Yet if the coronavirus did indeed come from a lab, US culpability is almost certain.
When US President Joe Biden asked the United States Intelligence Community to determine the origin of COVID-19, its conclusion was remarkably understated but nonetheless shocking. In a one-page summary, the IC made clear that it could not rule out the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) emerged from a laboratory.
But even more shocking for Americans and the world is an additional point on which the IC remained mum: If the virus did indeed result from laboratory research and experimentation, it was almost certainly created with US biotechnology and know-how that had been made available to researchers in China.
To learn the complete truth about the origins of COVID-19, we need a full, independent investigation not only into the outbreak in Wuhan, China, but also into the relevant US scientific research, international outreach, and technology licensing in the lead-up to the pandemic.
We recently called for such an investigation in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Some might dismiss our reasons for doing so as a “conspiracy theory.” But let us be crystal clear: If the virus did emerge from a laboratory, it almost surely did so accidentally in the normal course of research, possibly going undetected via asymptomatic infection.
It is of course also still possible that the virus had a natural origin. The bottom line is that nobody knows. That is why it is so important to investigate all the relevant information contained in databases available in the US.
Since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the US government has pointed an accusatory finger at China. But while it is true that the first observed COVID-19 cases were in Wuhan, the full story of the outbreak could involve America’s role in researching coronaviruses and in sharing its biotechnology with others around the world, including China.
US scientists who work with SARS-like coronaviruses regularly create and test dangerous novel variants with the aim of developing drugs and vaccines against them. Such “gain-of-function” research has been conducted for decades, but it has always been controversial, owing to concerns that it could result in an accidental outbreak, or that the techniques and technologies for creating new viruses could end up in the wrong hands. It is reasonable to ask whether SARS-CoV-2 owes its remarkable infectivity to this broader research effort.
Unfortunately, US authorities have sought to suppress this very question. Early in the epidemic, a small group of virologists queried by the US National Institutes of Health told the NIH leadership that SARS-CoV-2 might have arisen from laboratory research, noting that the virus has unusual features that virologists in the US have been using in experiments for years – often with support from the NIH.
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