Scientific panel investigating COVID-19 origins disbands

DCNFHarold Hutchison, DCNF

  • A Lancet-affiliated scientific panel tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19 disbanded earlier this month.
  • Questions about ties to EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit that funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, dogged the panel.
  • The panel will instead study general issues about biosafety.

A scientific panel investigating the origins of COVID-19 affiliated with the medical journal Lancet was disbanded earlier this month over ties to a group that worked with a lab in Wuhan, China.

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, said the group would instead focus on more general issues surrounding biosafety after questions arose about ties to EcoHealth Alliance, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“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,” Sachs said.

EcoHealth Alliance’s president, Peter Daszak, had originally helmed the panel until stepping down in June after the non-profit’s ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) were revealed.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Daszak has been a vocal critic of claims that COVID-19 emerged from a lab. He and five other members of the panel were signatories to a letter published by the Lancet in February 2020 that labeled claims of bioengineering as conspiracy theories. Daszak also was involved in a July 2021 letter which claimed the evidence supported a natural origin for the coronavirus.

The decision to terminate the panel was praised by Dr. Richard Ebright of Rutgers University, who told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the decision was foreshadowed in a June op-ed by Sachs.

“Sachs has taken the correct action,” Ebright said. “Sachs is one of few who endorsed the ‘cannot-be-a-lab-leak’ position in 2020 who has had both the intelligence to reassess the position when challenged and the integrity to step forward–as opposed to becoming silent–when he learned the position was unsupported and unsound.”

Ebright also noted that the vast majority of those on the panel had “disqualifying conflicts of interest.”

In addition to Daszak, Ebright pointed out that four other members of the panel were either senior employees of EcoHealth Alliance or subcontractors to the non-profit.

Ebright said three other members of the panel had been signatories to the February 2020 letter published by the Lancet that “established forth the false narrative that science showed SARS-CoV-2 entered humans through natural spillover” as opposed to originating in a laboratory.

Last week, the House of Representatives included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that stripped federal funds from EcoHealth Alliance.

Sachs told the Wall Street Journal that his panel had been looking into both the possibility of a natural origin for COVID-19 and whether or not it had escaped from a laboratory.

“A lot is going on around the world that is not properly scrutinized or explained to the public,” he said.

Despite the panel’s disbanding, a number of the members intend to continue investigating the origins of COVID-19.

“We are going to carry on with this important work,” University of Iowa professor Stanley Perlman told the Wall Street Journal.

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