NIH head clashes with MacCallum, rewrites history, tells her to move on: ‘I never rejected’ lab-leak theory

Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins appeared with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum to address the re-surfacing theory that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. 

MacCallum asked Collins Wednesday about a correspondence between himself and Dr. Anthony Fauci that was released in an email dump of more than 4,000 emails obtained by BuzzFeed and The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act.

The email in question, entitled “conspiracy gains momentum,” was sent from Collins to Fauci in mid-April of 2020. Most of the email is redacted, but from what can be seen, Collins linked to a Mediaite story on Fox News’s Bret Baier’s breaking coverage that multiple sources had confirmed “there is increasing confidence that the virus — Covid-19 — started in a Wuhan lab.”

When pressed by MacCallum about the email, Collins responded, “I never thought, Martha, that an email only reported by the subject line would become a topic for Fox News afternoon programming, but here we are.”

(Video: Fox News)

Let me try to clarify,” Collins continued.

“There were a lot of conspiracy theories and other ideas floating around at that point. One of them was that actually Sars-Covid 2 had been a bio-engineered, bio-weapon created on purpose by human intervention by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That doesn’t fit with what we know about this particular viral genome. And another was NIH had somehow been complicit in the generation of this dangerous virus. I can tell you categorically that did not happen,” he said.

“But then there was this other idea that maybe it was an accident, a lab leak, that the institute had been studying this virus, that it happened in somehow in nature, and it got loose. I never rejected that one, although there was no evidence to support it,” he told MacCallum. “So when we talk about what happened, let’s try to clarify the difference between those various statements or various options. Some of them are pretty outrageous. Some are still plausible.”

This back-handed, albeit self-righteous response comes just days after the Wuhan lab leak theory began to gain momentum in the mainstream media and among Democrats as viable, despite their insistence for the last year, Collins included, that this explanation was a conspiracy.

MacCallum pressed harder for an answer, pointing out Collins’ and Fauci’s dismissal of suggestions by Senator Tom Cotton and former President Trump that this could be lab-based, after researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill, as not scientific and therefore meriting rejection. 

“Both you and Dr. Fauci really poked — any conspiracy theory that came from Senator Cotton or President Trump was shot down as just not being scientific and something that should be rejected,” she said.

Collins responded, “I disagree with that, Martha. I think we were reacting to the more outrageous conspiracy theories that were all getting blurred together here, that this had been a bio-engineered, bio-weapon and that doesn’t add up.”

The NIH director then tried to steer the conversation back to his standard set of talking points, “We should be talking about how to put Covid-19 behind us, not going back to January 2020.”

Collins maintained that the most likely explanation for transmission is natural:

Because that’s always been the case with other coronaviruses. With SARS it turned out to be a civet cat. With MERS it was a camel. With ebola, we still don’t know what the intermediate host was. It’s not easy to figure this out. So just on a historical basis, that’s the most likely path that was traveled. And again, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To claim that the lab was responsible, we need to know that. But I don’t think anybody, you or any of the others who are commenting, should jump to the conclusion that that’s the most likely explanation right now. We do not know that. It might be, but we do not know.”


MacCallum stood her ground, denied jumping to conclusions, and pointed out that it seems like the lab leak theory continues to be dismissed.

She told Collins that “the biggest question that people have right now is why it seems like you and Dr. Fauci both jump to the conclusion very early on that any [explanation] that this could be a lab leak was something that we were all waved off of.”

I deny that you were waved off of that by me,” Collins concluded. “I would say you were waved off of some more outrageous conspiracy theories that had really no categorical sense to them. But the idea of a lab leak is never anything that I thought was impossible. I just want to say that right clearly now.”

The email leak and Collins’ response come on the heels of the Biden administration’s quiet decision to terminate a Trump State Department inquiry into the virus origins in favor of their own investigation. 


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