New emails published this week shed further light on how Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top government officials responded in the opening days of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Fauci, the outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has downplayed the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a lab setting in Wuhan, China, and has generally denied any wrongdoing or miscalculation in funding dangerous gain-of-function (GoF) research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). New emails from early 2020 obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by reporter Jimmy Tobias show Fauci was deeply concerned about the possibility of a lab leak at the time.
— Jimmy Tobias (@JamesCTobias) November 22, 2022
The emails contain communications between Fauci, scientist Jeremy Farrar of the Wellcome Trust, infectious disease researcher Kristian Andersen, then-Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Francis Collins and others. At one point, Farrar sent an email to Fauci and Collins warning of the “wild west,” seemingly referring to either the landscape of infectious disease research in China as a whole or the WIV specifically, according to the documents.
On February 1, 2020, Fauci floated the idea of alerting the FBI and MI5 about Andersen’s “concern” regarding the furin cleavage site on the spike protein of COVID-19. Proponents of the lab leak argue the furin cleavage site mutated in such a way that it was likely the result of GoF research at the Wuhan lab, according to The Atlantic.
Andersen also expressed concern about “serial passage” being conducted with coronaviruses in a BSL-2 level lab in Wuhan, which is far less secure than a maximum-security BSL-4 level lab. Serial passage, in layman’s terms, involves repeatedly infecting a host with a particular virus in order to induce mutations without manually genetically modifying it. Some proponents of the lab leak believe that serial passage may have caused the highly-dangerous furin cleavage site mutation responsible for COVID-19’s high transmissibility, The Washington Post noted.
In one email on February 5, 2020, Andersen, who later did a complete 180 and began calling the lab leak a “conspiracy theory,” explicitly stated he believed the furin cleavage site mutation was likely the result of serial passage. “It’s what’s shifted me to thinking that the insert of the furin site is the result of cell culture passage,” Andersen said to Farrar, according to one email.
Subsequent emails show Fauci and Collins repeatedly raising questions about serial passage and the role it may have played in the evolution of the virus. (RELATED: ‘I Can Defend Everything We’ve Done’: Fauci Says He Isn’t Worried About GOP Investigations)
Fauci has been connected to funding of GoF research while at the NIAID, according to House Republican lawmakers. Experts have repeatedly alleged that researchers at the WIV were doing GoF research on coronaviruses with U.S. government funding with minimal oversight, an allegation Fauci has denied on shaky scientific grounds.
While reporters continue to FOIA communications between government officials and some scientists continue searching for answers, the Biden administration has seemingly moved on from trying to figure out what the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic was. Both the White House and State Department have repeatedly dodged questions on pressing China for further information about what was happening at the WIV and the beginning stages of the outbreak just blocks away from a wet seafood market.
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