House Republicans have begun the first congressional inquiry into the Department of Health and Human Services’ apparent failure to review research grants of American taxpayer dollars that funded the bat coronavirus research at a lab in Wuhan, China.
House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher on Wednesday sent a letter to HHS senior science adviser David Hassell demanding explanations for why the agency did not review a $600,000 annual five-year grant that was given to the Wuhan Institute of Virology between 2014 and 2019.
The Federalist was the first to report the new investigation.
The letter raises concerns over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly whether American taxpayers funded “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab at a time when the federal government had issued a moratorium on such research. Gain of function research involves deliberately manipulating pathogens to make them more transmissible by humans to study ways in which naturally occurring diseases could evolve to threaten us.
With scientists and the media increasingly open to the possibility that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was leaked from the Wuhan lab, the lawmakers want to know why funding for research abroad that may have had a role in the outbreak of the pandemic was not reviewed before it was approved.
“There is mounting evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology with research on bat coronaviruses partially funded by EcoHealth’s grant,” the lawmakers wrote, citing a Wall Street Journal report that detailed how three researchers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.”
They observed that the timing of these illnesses matches scientific estimates for when SARS-CoV-2 began spreading in Wuhan and that the Wall Street Journal’s reporting contradicts the Chinese Communist Party’s claim that the first COVID-19 illness was reported on Dec. 8 that year.
“The Trump Administration was rightly concerned enough about the EcoHealth grants that it directed the NIH to terminate funding in April 2020,” the Republicans said. “But questions still remain about how the U.S. government could use taxpayer dollars to fund research on dangerous pathogens at the Chinese lab with known safety deficiencies.”
The federal government issued a moratorium on funding gain of function research in October 2014. In January 2017, before President Donald Trump was sworn into office, the Obama administration partially lifted the freeze and ordered U.S. agencies to establish review boards to evaluate funding proposals before approving gain of function research.