On Wednesday, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) sent a letter to Dr. David Christian Hassell with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response inquiring why another look wasn’t taken at the grant that was sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology doing Wuhan coronavirus research on bats there from 2014 to 2019. The letter notes that Dr. Hassell “chair[s] the group within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for reviewing funding decisions for research involving deadly pathogens…”
— House Judiciary GOP (@JudiciaryGOP) June 2, 2021
The letter lays out how the Wuhan lab came to receive these taxpayer funds:
In October 2014, the federal government paused the release of federal funds for “gain of function” research—that is, research with the potential to “enhance the pathogenicity or transmissibility of potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs).” The pause contained an exception however, “if the head of the [U.S. Government] funding agency determine[d] that the research [was] urgently necessary to protect the public health or national security.” In 2017, the Obama Administration lifted the pause on funding for gain of function research as long as the funding agency established a mechanism to review and appropriately evaluate these funding decisions. Accordingly, HHS established the Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight (P3CO) Review Committee to review and evaluate funding decisions for HHS components.
Between 2014 and 2019, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)—a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within HHS and led by Dr. Anthony Fauci—awarded grants around $600,000 per year to EcoHealth Alliance, Inc., to study Chinese bat coronaviruses. EcoHealth’s grants helped to fund research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level 4 facility where U.S. diplomats reported safety and training deficiencies in 2018. In secret cables, these diplomats even warned that the Wuhan lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their transmission to humans posed a risk of starting a SARS pandemic.
The letter contains further damaging information about EcoHealth Alliance, Inc.:
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. EcoHealth’s president has bragged about the company’s experience manipulating bat coronaviruses, saying the viruses can be modified in a lab “pretty easily.” In addition, we now know that three researchers from the Wuhan lab sought hospital care in November 2019 “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.” The timing of these illnesses matches scientists’ best estimates for when SARS-CoV2, the virus that caused the pandemic, began circulating the city of Wuhan. The Chinese Communist Party, however, maintains that the first illness was not reported until December 8, 2019.
Rep. Gallagher discussed grants for EcoHealth with Townhall last month. During that conversation, he emphasized concerns he had that Dr. Anthony Fauci was “not being forthcoming” when it came to gain of function.
The congressman had referred to Dr. Fauci’s appearance before a committee hearing where he was asked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), also a doctor, about gain of function funding. Fauci denied that he approved such funding. Since then, though, he has said he told Chinese scientists to not conduct such research, as he explained to Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) during another hearing.
The letter points to other ways in which Dr. Fauci has tried to get around being transparent and forthcoming:
Although Dr. Fauci and NIH allege that EcoHealth’s research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology was not gain of function research, and therefore not subject to P3CO review, other scientists disagree. Rutgers University Professor Richard Ebright told the Daily Caller News Foundation that Dr. Fauci’s office “systematically thwarted—indeed systematically nullified— the HHS P3CO Framework by declining to flag and forward proposals for review.” As an example, Professor Ebright explained that EcoHealth’s 2019 grant proposal, which referenced “in vitro and in vivo infection experiments,” “unequivocally” should have prompted review by the P3CO. Two other scientists wrote in June 2020 that “the central logic of [EcoHealth’s] grant was to test the pandemic potential of SARS-related bat coronaviruses by making ones with pandemic potential, either through genetic engineering or passaging, or both.”
As Andrew Kerr further mentioned in his DCNF report referenced above, “the NIH subagency that awarded the grant to the nonprofit group EcoHealth Alliance to study Chinese bat coronaviruses opted against forwarding it to the P3CO committee, an NIH spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation, meaning the research received federal funding without an independent review by the HHS board.”
The concerns to do with Dr. Fauci continue to mount. As Katie reported last week, Fauci in 2012 co-authored an op-ed where he argued continuing such gain of function research was worth the risk of a pandemic. Emails from Dr. Fauci obtained by BuzzFeed through a FOIA request also show he was told on January 31, 2020 that the virus looked to be “potentially engineered.”
The letter also asks Dr. Hassell the following:
1. Do you believe that the NIAID should have flagged the EcoHealth grants involving research about bat coronaviruses for review by the P3CO?
2. Do you have any reason to believe that U.S. taxpayer dollars have funded any other research into enhanced PPPs without review by the P3CO since 2017?
3. In your January 2020 comments you acknowledged certain “definition issues” with the P3CO review framework. Do you consider gain of function research only to apply to the enhancement of viruses that infect humans or also the enhancement of viruses that infect animals?
4. In your January 2020 comments, you acknowledged that the P3CO had completed only two funding reviews and was in the middle of its third. As of today, how many reviews has the P3CO completed? How many reviews are still underway?
5. Have you or any other member of the P3CO discussed the EcoHealth grants with Dr. Fauci or any employee of NIAID or NIH since January 2020? Please explain.
6. How often have you communicated with Dr. Fauci in your role as chair of the P3CO since 2017. Please explain.