Scott Gottlieb, who headed the Food and Drug Administration from 2017 to 2019, said Sunday it’s highly possible Covid-19 originated in a Chinese lab as “these kinds of leaks happen all the time,” a high-profile endorsement of a once-fringe theory about the virus’s origins that has recently picked up steam.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Gottlieb, an FDA commissioner under former President Donald Trump, explained it’s not rare for viruses to spread this way, adding “even here in the United States we’ve had mishaps.”
Elite laboratories in the U.S. have on multiple occasions seen high-risk pathogens make their way into the outside world due to safety lapses, such as in 2014, when a deadly bacteria escaped a primate research center in New Orleans, infecting monkeys that weren’t intended to be used for experiments.
China has seen multiple of these types of leaks, Gottlieb said, citing outbreaks of SARS in China in the early 2000s that the World Health Organization later linked to researchers in a Beijing lab.
Gottlieb also drew attention to prior safety concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab where proponents of the leak theory suspect the virus originated from.
The Washington Post previously reported that in 2018, two years before the pandemic, the U.S. state department had been concerned about safety at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as researchers studied coronavirus in bats.
The ex-FDA chief referenced the Wall Street Journal’s explosive report last week that three of the institute’s workers were hospitalized in November 2019 with Covid-like symptoms, saying: “We now have evidence that some lab workers became infected right at the time this virus was believed to have been first introduced.”
All this has meant “the side of the ledger that suggested this could have come out of a lab has continued to expand,” Gottlieb said. Meanwhile, “the side of the ledger that suggests this could have come from a zoonotic source, come out of nature, really hasn’t budged.”
Despite a lack of concrete evidence in support of the lab-leak theory, last week’s report from the WSJ, citing previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence, resurfaced debate over the origins of the coronavirus. This followed a group of 18 prominent scientists in mid-May deeming the lab theory “viable” and pushing for it to be more closely investigated. The suspicion that Covid-19 originated in a laboratory was initially dismissed by many top researchers, who maintained a more likely explanation is that the virus came from an animal, likely a bat. However, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on its website, no exact conclusion has been drawn about how the virus was initially introduced. Meanwhile, the virus’s origins have evolved into a partisan dispute on Capitol Hill where Republicans are accusing Democrats of ignoring the theory early on in the pandemic. President Biden on Wednesday called on intelligence agencies to “redouble their efforts” to probe the virus’s origin.
What To Watch For
Gottlieb and other scientists have emphasized the importance of getting to the bottom of Covid’s origins. Also appearing during a televised interview Sunday morning, Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine development, warned a lack of a decisive conclusion will lead to future pandemics. “There’s going to be a Covid-26 and Covid-32 unless we fully understand the origins of Covid-19,” he told NBCs “Meet the Press.”
“Here’s Why Republicans Say The Media Got The Wuhan Lab Story Wrong” (Forbes)
“Biden Team Reportedly Shut Down Secretive Trump-Era Project Pursuing The Wuhan Lab-Leak Theory” (Forbes)
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