Virologists Defend Paper on Origins of COVID-19 at Contentious House Hearing

Jeff Louderback
By Jeff Louderback
July 13, 2023Congress
Virologists Defend Paper on Origins of COVID-19 at Contentious House Hearing
Dr. Robert Garry, a professor at Tulane University School of Medicine, and Dr. Kristian Andersen Scripps Research listen during a hearing with the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 11, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

A 2020 paper studying the early origins of the COVID-19 outbreak was the subject of an often contentious July 11 House hearing investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible,” the paper states.

Those words, written by five virologists in the 2020 paper, prompted many officials to repeatedly dismiss the possibility that the pandemic started in a lab.

Two of the paper’s authors, Kristian Andersen and Robert Garry Jr., testified at the hearing. House Republicans contend that the paper was part of a cover-up by former National Institutes of Health figures Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins.

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, is also a doctor of podiatric medicine.

“This is not an attack on science. It’s not an attack on peer review,” Dr. Wenstrup said in his opening statement at the hearing. “We are examining whether scientific integrity was disregarded in favor of political expediency, maybe to conceal or diminish the government’s relationship with the Wuhan Institute of Virology or perhaps its funding of risky gain-of-function coronavirus research.”

House Select Subcommittee On The Coronavirus Pandemic Investigates 2020 Scientific Paper Dismissing Lab Origins Of The Covid Virus
Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) speaks at a hearing with the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 11, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Proximal Origin

A report released by House Republicans in the select subcommittee noted that the paper, “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2,” appeared on Feb. 16, 2020. A paper with the same title was published in Nature Medicine on March 17, 2020.

Referred to simply as “Proximal Origin” in the committee report and at the hearing, the paper concluded that COVID-19 “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus” and that “we do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible,” according to the committee report.

“Proximal Origin” has been accessed 5.84 million times and has received the fifth most attention of any paper ever tracked, the committee report stated.

“This is one of the single most impactful and influential scientific papers in history, and it expressed conclusions that were not based on sound science nor in fact, but instead on assumptions. The question is why,” the report continued.

The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic has investigated the origins of COVID-19 since April 2023.

The committee report showed that messages between several virologists discussed the possibility that parts of the virus appeared to be man-made. That position changed, the committee report alleged, after a Feb. 1, 2020, conference call between virologists and Drs. Fauci and Collins.

On Jan. 31, 2020, Dr. Fauci “suggested” that Mr. Andersen draft a paper regarding a possible lab leak of COVID-19, according to the report.

During a Feb. 1, 2020, conference call that included Dr. Fauci, Dr. Collins, Dr. Lawrence Tabak, and several virologists, Dr. Fauci again suggested writing a paper about a potential lab leak, the report explained.

“After publication, Proximal Origin was used to downplay the lab leak hypothesis and call those who believe it may be true conspiracy theorists,” the committee report continued.

Dr. Anthony Fauci in Washington on Dec. 9, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Allegations Are ‘Absurd and False’

Drs. Fauci and Collins and the virologists have said the allegations are not true and called them politically motivated.

“Let me categorically say that these allegations are absurd and false,” Mr. Andersen said during testimony at the hearing.

“Conclusions stated in Proximal Origin were based on scientific data and analyses by a team of international scientists with extensive track records in studying virus emergence and evolution. None of this work was influenced by Dr. Fauci,” added Mr. Andersen, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research in California.

Mr. Garry, a professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, testified that “the evidence remains clear: SARS-CoV-2 emerged via the wildlife trade.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology’s two main campuses “are considered the prime suspects for a lab origin of SARS-CoV-2 because they are the sites of the most advanced research programs on coronaviruses in the city,” Mr. Garry said.

“However, there was no clustering of diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in December 2019 around either the Wuchang or Jiangxi campuses of the WIV, which are 7 and 15 miles, respectively, from the Huanan Market, as would be expected if entry of SARS-CoV-2 into humans involved a laboratory accident,” he added.

Mr. Garry continued by saying that “despite official denials from China, it was determined that Huanan Market vendors sold illegal SARS-CoV-2 susceptible wildlife in November 2019, the most likely time frame.”

The authors of the paper were motivated by seeking to find the truth about the origins of the virus, Mr. Andersen noted.

“When I outlined my initial hypothesis about a potentially engineered virus, Dr. Fauci told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘If you think this virus came from a lab, you should write a scientific paper about it,’” Mr. Andersen said.

Biologists and virologists with another theory about where COVID-19 started contend that the virus likely spread to humans from a Wuhan market where wild animals were butchered and sold.

Democrats Release Report

Democrats from the congressional committee released their own report on July 11 including “a review of more than ten thousand pages of documents and transcribed interview testimony provided in response to Select Subcommittee Republicans’ requests to the ‘Proximal Origin’ researchers.”

The Democrats’ report concludes, “based on evidence provided to the Select Subcommittee to date, that there was no cover-up of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and no suppression of the lab leak theory on the parts of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), ranking member on the panel, commented on the allegations against the researchers in his opening remarks.

“While the facts remain unknown, we should let our expert communities continue to do their jobs while we, as lawmakers, focus on policies to help prevent the next pandemic and save future lives,” Mr. Ruiz said. “But instead of doing that, we are here, interrogating researchers who wrote a paper three years ago so my colleagues can push their partisan narrative and disparage our nation’s public health officials and institutions in the process.”

Dr. Wenstrup argued that the virologists’ report reflected the authors’ own partisan narrative.

“America’s leading health officials vilified and suppressed the lab leak theory in pursuit of a preferred, coordinated narrative that was not based in truth or science. The Select Subcommittee’s report proves that the conclusions championed by the co-authors of ‘Proximal Origin’ are not only inaccurate but were crafted to appease a stated political motive,” Dr. Wenstrup said.

“Stifling scientific discourse and labeling those who believe in the possibility of a lab leak as ‘conspiracy theorists’ caused irrefutable harm to public trust in our health officials. Americans deserve to know why honesty, transparency, and facts were abandoned,” he said. “Our report is devoted to achieving that goal.”

From The Epoch Times

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