COVID Likely Emerged from Wuhan Lab — and Earlier Than Previously Believed, Senate Report Concludes
COVID-19 likely resulted from an accidental leak at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and triggered the start of the pandemic earlier in 2019 than Chinese government officials claimed, according to a Senate report released today.
April 20, 2023: COVID-19 likely resulted from an accidental leak at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and triggered the start of the pandemic earlier in 2019 than Chinese government officials claimed, according to a Senate report released today.
The report noted multiple ongoing biosafety lapses that occurred early in 2019 at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where Chinese and U.S. researchers were conducting gain-of-function research.
It also documented efforts led by the Chinese military to develop a COVID-19 vaccine at the lab weeks before China admitted the virus first emerged in Wuhan.
Sen. Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.) — the member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions who released the report — said in a press release:
“A preponderance of evidence in this report suggests there were two separate unintentional lab leaks dating back to fall of 2019 in Wuhan, China with significant evidence supporting that COVID-19 was a lab-created and altered virus.”
The 300-page report, “Muddy Waters: The Origins of COVID-19 Report,” contains more than 1,500 citations to corroborate its findings. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) who served as minority leader of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, requested the committee compile the report.
This news comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray on March 1 confirmed that the FBI has long believed COVID-19 originated at a Chinese government lab.
Biosafety issues at Wuhan lab peaked in summer and fall of 2019
The report documented coronavirus-related animal experiments conducted at the WIV in 2018 and 2019.
It found there were “three laboratory accidents involving SARS-CoV-2 since the pandemic began.”
“It is clear that the convergence of sophisticated coronavirus research, government demands for scientific breakthroughs, and biosafety problems at the WIV appear to have peaked in the late-summer or early-fall 2019,” the Senate investigators said.
“From June to August 2019, WIV leadership published multiple reports expressing concerns about biosafety shortcomings due to limited availability of equipment and trained personnel.
“Multiple PRC [People’s Republic of China] government medical and public health entities in Wuhan began procuring pathogen detection instruments and conducting infectious disease outbreak exercises and drills.”
The WIV’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) branch in November 2019 acknowledged problems at the lab when it reposted an article outlining three challenges — or “three no’s” — that WIV researchers needed to address, including: “no equipment and technology standards, no design and construction teams, and no experience operating or maintaining” a high-level lab.
According to the report, “the WIV hosted a special senior leadership biosafety and security training session” in November 2019, with a senior Chinese Academy of Sciences biosecurity official traveling from Beijing to relay “important” instructions from senior Chinese government leadership about the “complex and grave situation” facing biosecurity work.
This occurred the same day the Wuhan lab ordered “an air incinerator to address some problem or failure of a biosafety autoclave at the WIV’s original downtown campus,” the report said.
“The need to install air incineration to the autoclave exhaust after serial HEPA filtration suggests some concern about the risk of an infectious aerosol escape,” the report authors said.
The anti-infectious disease nongovernmental organization EcoHealth Alliance, headed by Peter Daszak, extensively funded the Wuhan lab. Despite this, U.S. officials ostensibly never visited WIV, the Daily Caller said.
“No one from EcoHealth had hands-on experience at the WIV. Daszak had never been there. He himself says, I never needed to look at the data, they gave me what I needed to see,” Marshall told the Daily Caller, adding:
“If we’re funding something, I’m not sure they need to be there every day, but we should have American scientists over there.”
Chinese military researchers work on COVID vaccines prior to December 2019
The report cited evidence suggesting researchers with the Chinese military began working on two COVID-19 vaccines before December 2019.
“People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Professor Zhou Yusen, Director of the 5th Institute at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS), worked with the WIV, and possibly at the WIV, episodically, for several years prior to the pandemic,” the report said, adding:
“Zhou or AMMS researchers may have been working at the WIV no later than the fall of 2019 conducting research for a paper that he coauthored with two WIV researchers, Shi Zhengli and Chen Jing, on a known adverse effect of SARS-related vaccines and antibody treatments.”
“There is reason to believe Zhou was engaged in SARS-related coronavirus animal vaccine research with WIV researchers beginning no later than the Summer or early Fall of 2019,” they added, noting that Zhou submitted one of the first COVID-19 vaccine patents on Feb. 24, 2020.
The patent included “mouse-derived serological data from vaccine-related experiments,” which experts — “consulted with during this investigation” — said could not have been completed unless Zhou’s team began work on vaccine development before the known outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in late December 2019.
However, the evidence is circumstantial and requires further investigation from the U.S. government, according to the report.
Burr said in a statement that the report “is credible and worthy of inclusion in the international effort to determine how the pandemic started so that steps can be taken to prevent, or mitigate against, future pandemics,” Bloomberg reported.
Senators introduce legislation to halt U.S. gain-of-function research, hold Chinese officials accountable
Although the report was authored by Republicans, the Senate in May 2021 passed a bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Marshall and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) calling for a transparent investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sen. Marshall in October 2021 introduced the CCP Politburo Accountability Act to place sanctions on the top two Chinese health officials who allegedly had early ties to the COVID-19 outbreak and obfuscated actionable information.
The same month, Marshall introduced the Viral Gain of Function Research Moratorium Act, which aims to halt all federal research grants to universities and other organizations conducting gain-of-function research on potential pandemic pathogens.
In December 2021, Sens. Marshall, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced the National BioSecurity Improvement Act to ensure federally funded research involving potentially dangerous pathogens does not compromise national security.
But experts interviewed by The Defender warned that contrary to what the public was told, the legislation limits the types of documents the government must declassify — raising questions about the bill’s real intent.
The bill requires the declassification only of documents related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China and may be intended to reduce the culpability of U.S. and private actors in the potential leak — or development — of COVID-19, by placing full blame on China and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the experts said.
Source: Children's Health Defense - The Defender Suzanne Burdick, Ph.D., is a reporter and researcher for The Defender based in Fairfield, Iowa. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Texas at Austin (2021), and a master's degree in communication and leadership from Gonzaga University (2015). Her scholarship has been published in Health Communication.