EcoHealth Alliance Comments on the Opening Statement by Chairman Brad Wenstrup at the House SSCP Hearing, April 18th 2023
In his opening remarks at the April 18th hearing of the U. S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, “Investigating the Origins of COVID-19, Part 2: China and the Available Intelligence” (https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/investigating-the-origins-of-covid-19-part-2-china-and-the-available-intelligence/), Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R – OH 02) repeated several unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims about the work of the EcoHealth Alliance in China. He stated that “the origins of COVID-19 cannot be solved by science alone,” but to solve this puzzle it is critical to get the science right. This statement corrects the record.
Chairman Wenstrup made four inaccurate statements in his opening remarks:
1. Referring to research conducted by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, he said that “we know that much of this [gain-of-function] research was done with US-based EcoHealth Alliance.” This is not true. EcoHealth Alliance did not support “gain-of-function” research at WIV. Any assertions to the contrary are based either on misinterpretation, or willful misrepresentation of the actual research conducted. The NIH defines “gain-of-function” as research that will create new viral strains with “enhanced transmissibility or virulence” for viruses that are already (1) “likely highly transmissible and likely capable of wide and uncontrollable spread in human populations;” and (2) “likely highly virulent and likely to cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans.” Because the SARS-related research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology dealt with bat coronaviruses that had never been shown to infect people, let alone cause significant morbidity and/or mortality in humans, by definition it was not gain-of-function research. This was confirmed by NIH on July 7, 2016, in a letter to EcoHealth Alliance made public via Freedom of Information Act requests stating “NIAID is in agreement that the work proposed … is not subject to the GoF research funding pause” (italics added). This was also stated by NIH spokesperson Elizabeth Deatrick in comments to the press (https://theintercept.com/2021/09/09/covid-origins-gain-of-function-research/).
2. Chairman Wenstrup claimed that “we know that EcoHealth Alliance has failed to publish all its work.” This is also not true. EcoHealth Alliance reviewed, analyzed, and published data on a regular basis from our work with WIV, so that other scientists could see the work we had done, and so that agencies can use our research to fight pandemics. Genetic sequences relevant to our bat coronavirus research were routinely deposited with NIH’s GenBank database, making them publicly available. All of the genetic sequences of SARS-related coronaviruses we discovered in China prior to the pandemic have already been made public, and shared with U.S. Government agencies. We gave hundreds of presentations on this work, including to lead U.S. Government agency staff and the public, and published dozens of peer-reviewed papers based on these data in the open scientific literature.
3. Chairman Wenstrup also contended that EcoHealth Alliance “has refused to share its work with the US Government” and that U.S. taxpayer-funded research “is being hidden.” This is also not true, and his statement suggests he has been misinformed. In addition to filing sequence data with GenBank and publishing dozens of relevant peer-reviewed papers in the scientific literature, EcoHealth Alliance filed regular reports on its research with the funding agencies, including the NIH, USAID, and DoD. EcoHealth Alliance has also responded to all bipartisan requests for information on COVID-19 origins from Congressional committees (including cooperating with Chairman Wenstrup’s own Select Subcommittee) and has also supplied hundreds of thousands of pages of information to a wide range of agencies that have requested information.
4. Finally, Chairman Wenstrup suggests that research undertaken by EcoHealth Alliance and collaborators “may have sparked the pandemic.” This is simply not the case. The fact is that the bat coronavirus research conducted by EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology could not have started the COVID-19 pandemic. As then NIH Director Francis Collins said in a public statement on October 20, 2021: “NIH wants to set the record straight on NIH-supported research to understand naturally occurring bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, funded through a subaward from NIH grantee EcoHealth Alliance. Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.” (Italics added, https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/statement-misinformation-about-sars-cov-2-origins).
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