Letter to the Editor, National Review
July 20, 2023 – To the editor, National Review:
In Brittany Bernstein’s July 19 article, “Biden Administration Blocks Wuhan Institute Funds over Failure to Provide Safety, Security Documents” (https://www.nationalreview.com/news/biden-administration-halts-wuhan-institute-funds-over-failure-to-provide-safety-security-documents/), several incorrect statements regarding EcoHealth Alliance are repeated uncritically.
Ms. Bernstein’s article states: “EcoHealth Alliance attracted significant attention from Republican lawmakers during the pandemic because of its gain-of-function research, which involves extracting viruses from animals and engineering them in a lab to make them more transmissible or dangerous to humans. Two of EcoHealth’s NIH grants involve gain-of-function research and enhanced potential pandemic research on coronaviruses.” This is not true. EcoHealth Alliance did not support “gain-of-function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Such experiments fall under the US HHS P3CO regulations (https://www.phe.gov/s3/dualuse/documents/p3co.pdf), which define gain-of-function research as likely to 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.” The SARS-related research conducted under NIH funding prior to the pandemic at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) only dealt with bat coronaviruses that had never been shown to infect people, let alone cause morbidity and/or mortality in humans, and therefore by definition was not gain-of-function research. This was confirmed by NIH in a July 7th 2016 letter to EcoHealth Alliance now made public stating “NIAID is in agreement that the work proposed … is not subject to the GoF research funding pause” and repeated by NIH spokesperson Elizabeth Deatrick (https://theintercept.com/2021/09/09/covid-origins-gain-of-function-research/). EcoHealth Alliance followed the relevant guidelines in place at the time and acted according to NIH guidance.