Columbia University professor Dr. Jeffrey Sachs disbanded a task force of scientists investigating the origins of COVID-19 due to some of the members’ affiliation with EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based health organization that used federal money to fund bat coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China.
“Dr. Sachs, chairman of a Covid-19 commission affiliated with the Lancet scientific journals, said he closed the task force because he was concerned about its links to EcoHealth Alliance,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “The New York-based nonprofit has been under scrutiny from some scientists, members of Congress and other officials since 2020 for using U.S. funds for studies on bat coronaviruses with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research facility in the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 outbreak occurred.”
“I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance,” Dr. Sachs explained, according to the Wall Street Journal.
According to the outlet, “EcoHealth Alliance’s president, Peter Daszak, led the task force until recusing himself from that role in June. Some other members of the task force have collaborated with Dr. Daszak or EcoHealth Alliance on projects.”
Earlier this month, over 900 pages of documents were obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit that contain previously undisclosed information about the role of EcoHealth Alliance in U.S.-funded gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
According to The Intercept:
“The Intercept has obtained more than 900 pages of documents detailing the work of EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based health organization that used federal money to fund bat coronavirus research at the Chinese laboratory. The trove of documents includes two previously unpublished grant proposals that were funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as well as project updates relating to EcoHealth Alliance’s research, which has been scrutinized amid increased interest in the origins of the pandemic.
“The bat coronavirus grant provided EcoHealth Alliance with a total of $3.1 million, including $599,000 that the Wuhan Institute of Virology used in part to identify and alter bat coronaviruses likely to infect humans. Even before the pandemic, many scientists were concerned about the potential dangers associated with such experiments. The grant proposal acknowledges some of those dangers: ‘Fieldwork involves the highest risk of exposure to SARS or other CoVs, while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.’”
After reviewing the documents obtained by The Intercept, Dr. Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said, “The materials show that the 2014 and 2019 NIH grants to EcoHealth with subcontracts to WIV funded gain-of-function research as defined in federal policies in effect in 2014-2017 and potential pandemic pathogen enhancement as defined in federal policies in effect in 2017-present. The materials confirm the grants supported the construction — in Wuhan — of novel chimeric SARS-related coronaviruses that combined a spike gene from one coronavirus with genetic information from another coronavirus, and confirmed the resulting viruses could infect human cells.”
Recently leaked documents revealed that Chinese scientists at the WIV working with EcoHealth Alliance were planning to genetically engineer bat coronaviruses that were more infectious to humans and then conduct experiments on live bats just 18 months before the first known COVID-19 cases emerged.
In order to fund the proposal, researchers requested $14 million from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a U.S. Department of Defense agency. The request was submitted by Daszak.
“Papers, confirmed as genuine by a former member of the Trump administration, show they were hoping to introduce ‘human-specific cleavage sites’ to bat coronaviruses which would make it easier for the virus to enter human cells,” The Telegraph reported. “When Covid-19 was first genetically sequenced, scientists were puzzled about how the virus had evolved such a human-specific adaptation at the cleavage site on the spike protein, which is the reason it is so infectious.”
DARPA rejected to fund the proposal because it was “clear that the [proposal] could have put local communities at risk,” and warned that the researchers had not properly considered the dangers of gain of function research on the bat coronaviruses.
However, Drastic Research, the group of scientists who obtained the documents, believe it is plausible that the researchers went ahead with their proposal.
“Given that we find in this proposal a discussion of the planned introduction of human-specific cleavage sites, a review by the wider scientific community of the plausibility of artificial insertion is warranted,” Drastic said.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, “Dr. Daszak has been a vocal opponent of the hypothesis that the virus might have spread from a laboratory accident. He was a member of a World Health Organization-led team that visited Wuhan earlier this year and concluded that a laboratory leak was extremely unlikely.”
It should be noted that Daszak was the only representative of the United States in that World Health Organization team. According to a Congressional Republican-led probe into the origins of COVID-19, “The United States put forth a list of experts to be considered, none of whom were chosen. Daszak was not on that list but was nevertheless selected and approved by [China].”
Further, Daszak has been implicated in working with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to cover up the research they were conducting, and to suppress the theory that COVID-19 originated at the WIV. The Congressional investigation found “strong evidence that suggests Peter Daszak is the public face of a CCP [Chinese Communist Party] disinformation campaign designed to suppress public discussion about a potential lab leak.”
The report additionally explained that “Daszak was heavily involved in the gain-of-function research taking place at the WIV, including research that was done at BSL-2 levels and that was done while the United States had a moratorium in place on funding gain-of-function research.”
Emails sent from Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance email account and obtained in the investigation “show Daszak’s effort to organize a large group of scientists to sign onto a statement that he personally drafted.”
Daszak concludes one email by stating, “Please note that this statement will not have EcoHealth Alliance logo on it and will not be identifiable as coming from any one organization or person, the idea is to have this as a community supporting our colleagues.”
The emails reveal the statement was drafted in response to a request by WIV researchers that Daszak worked with.
In an email discussing Daszak’s statement intended to shut down the WIV lab leak theory, Daszak wrote, “I spoke with [Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Center for Emerging Diseases at the WIV Linfa Wang] last night about the statement we sent round. He thinks, and I agree with him, that you, me and him should not sign this statement, so it has some distance from us and therefore doesn’t work in a counterproductive way … We’ll then put it out in a way that doesn’t link it back to our collaboration so we maximize an independent voice.”
According to the Congressional investigation, “While pushing for Daszak and Baric, the WIV’s most prominent American collaborators, to hide their efforts to organize this statement, Wang was serving as the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Center for Emerging Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, of which Shi Zheng-li is the Director. Baric agreed and chose not to sign. It is unclear why Daszak ultimately changed his mind and signed the statement.”