In 2017, a report from an official at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) raised red flags about the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), according to internal records revealed this week by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).
“It is clear to me by talking to the technician that certainly there is a need for training support,” Dr. Ping Chen, an NIAID official, wrote in a report about the controversial laboratory suspected of unleashing COVID-19 on the world.
Johnson, ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation, sent a letter this week to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak, reiterating multiple requests for an interview with Chen.
Johnson’s letter revealed the contents of Chen’s October 2017 report, including her warning about the Wuhan Institute, confirming the senator’s longtime suspicion that U.S. health officials were aware of safety issues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology as early as October 2017.
Chen’s report and other communications were uncovered long after an August 2021 request from Johnson and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to the health agencies seeking Chen’s unredacted records. The NIAID doctor had visited the Wuhan Institute and reported on her findings.
At the time, however, Health and Human Services refused to release the records. After months of obstruction, Johnson said, the agency agreed to lift some of the redactions in the heavily redacted file and did allow the senator’s staff to review Chen’s report at HHS headquarters.
The document review found Chen expressing safety concerns at the lab where risky gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses were performed prior to the novel coronavirus outbreak and the deadly pandemic that began sweeping the world in late 2019. Growing evidence points to the COVID-19 outbreak having leaked from the controversial Chinese lab.
Chen wrote that the French entity that helped construct the Wuhan lab “does not provide technical training for laboratory operations.”
Based on Chen’s communications with a colleague, Johnson said he and Paul knew that the health official’s report partially served as the basis for a January 19, 2018, State Department cable that raised safety concerns about the laboratory in communist China. That section was titled “Unclear Guidelines on Virus Access and a Lack of Trained Talent Impede Research.”
“[D]uring interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted that the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the State Department cable noted.
Why did HHS redact much of the report and related documents? Johnson said he believes the only reason for doing so “was to hide the report’s contents from the American people.”
“Perhaps HHS did not want the public to fully understand the fact that NIH and NIAID officials were aware of safety concerns the Wuhan Institute of Virology dating as far back as 2017,” the senator asserted in his letter to the health agencies.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the time. His agency funded gain-of-function research of novel coronaviruses in Wuhan, China. And despite claims to the contrary, Fauci knew about it all by January 2020, as COVID-19 began its deadly spread across the globe.
As the National Review reported:
The NIAID funded the gain-of-function research through the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance, which contracted the Wuhan lab “for the past 5 years,” according to an email obtained by the investigative public-health non-profit U.S. Right to Know.
“EcoHealth group (Peter Daszak et al), has for years been among the biggest players in coronavirus work, also in collaboration with Ralph Baric, Ian Lipkin and others,” Fauci’s chief of staff Greg Folkers wrote to his boss and other public health officials.
It’s not clear just what NIH and NIAID did with the warning in Chen’s report. Johnson said Health and Human Services has stonewalled and obstructed his legitimate oversight, leaving the public in the dark about the government’s involvement in the controversial lab.
Last week, the health agency notified Congress that the Wuhan Institute of Virology has been debarred, or excluded, from participating in U.S. federal government procurement and non-procurement programs until July 2023 because of “noncompliance with Government award regulations, and failure to acknowledge and correct this violation.”
The National Institutes of Health noted in a letter that the lab had “conducted an experiment yielding a level of viral activity which was greater than permitted under the terms of the grant.” That award was for the study of bat coronaviruses.
Johnson gave HHS and NIH until Oct. 5 to provide unredacted records related to Chen and the Wuhan Institute of Virology and make Chen available for an interview.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Background Photo “Wuhan Institute of Virology” by Ureem2805. CC BY-SA 4.0.