Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, admitted this week that a meeting took place with prominent scientists last February to discuss the origins of COVID-19 outbreak in China.
Just days after that meeting, one scientist who previously voiced concerns that COVID-19's genome was unnatural, completely reversed their opinion, and any suggestion that COVID-19 did not naturally emerge was dismissed as a conspiracy theory.
News of the meeting is particularly noteworthy because the theory that COVID-19 escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology has gained significant traction in recent weeks. The theory was previously dismissed as a conspiracy theory despite a lack of evidence disproving the possibility.
What are the details?
According to USA Today, that meeting, which took place on Feb. 1, 2020, "played a pivotal role in shaping the early views of several key scientists whose published papers and public statements contributed to the shutting down of legitimate discussion about whether a laboratory in Wuhan, China, might have ignited the COVID-19 pandemic."
The call was convened after Kristian Andersen, an expert in infectious disease genomics at the prestigious Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, told Fauci he was concerned COVID-19 may have been artificially engineered.
"The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered," Andersen wrote in an email prior to the teleconference, adding that he and other scientists "all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory."
Andersen's email was one of more than 3,000 Fauci's work-related emails obtained by BuzzFeed News in early June.
Among those on the call included Fauci, Andersen, Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrar, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, "plus several other international experts on emerging infectious diseases and virology," USA Today reported.
"I remember it very well," Fauci recounted in an interview with USA Today. "We decided on the call the situation really needed to be looked into carefully."
"It was a very productive back-and-forth conversation where some on the call felt it could possibly be an engineered virus," Fauci added of the meeting.
Following the meeting, the group decided that World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu should be looped into their conversation. What came from contact with the controversial WHO is not clear.
What happened after the meeting?
Just three days later, Andersen told scientists "the data conclusively show" that COVID-19 was not engineered, denouncing suggestions that COVID-19 did not emerge naturally.
"Reading through the letter I think it's great, but I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering," Andersen said. "The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case. Engineering can mean many things and could be done for either basic research or nefarious reasons, but the data conclusively show that neither was done…"
"If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it's very important that we do so strongly and in plain language ('consistent with' [natural evolution] is a favorite of mine when talking to scientists, but not when talking to the public – especially conspiracy theorists)," he added.
Several weeks later, Andersen and other scientists released a report on the origins of COVID-19, explaining their work, "clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus."
That report, according to USA Today, was "hugely influential and is among the key reasons that any kind of lab-related hypothesis — involving either a natural or man-made virus — was dismissed by so many for so long."