Last year, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced a bipartisan Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) effort to explore the origins of COVID-19. For the past fifteen months, Republicans on the committee have reviewed hundreds of studies, interviewed various experts, and analyzed numerous reports concerning the source of the virus.
The 35-page interim report, signed solely by Burr and released on Thursday, is the product of these efforts, evidencing Republicans' commitment to establish the full truth about COVID's origins as well as their refusal to soon forgive or forget.
What are the details?
For years, some suggested — especially those with vested interests in the alternative not being found true — that the COVID-19 virus came from a bat in the Wuhan wet market or from a bat cave. If that were the case, then those performing radical experiments on coronaviruses in a sketchy Chinese lab with U.S. federal funding could not be held responsible for tens of millions of deaths.
According to the Senate GOP interim report, those theories have been found wanting.
Among the reasons to doubt the natural zoonotic spillover hypothesis were:
- The intermediate host species for the virus "if one exists, remains unidentified." Within six months of the first human SARS case, health officials found the intermediary species responsible (palm civets and raccoon dogs).
- "Unlike SARS, the genomes of early COVID-19 cases from the first months of the pandemic do not show genetic evidence of SARS-CoV-2 having circulated in another animal species other than humans."
- "The low genetic diversity of the earliest SARS-CoV-2 samples suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic is most likely the result of a single successful spillover of SARS-CoV-2."
After detailing the untenability of the claim of natural origins, the report states that, based on the data publicly available, the "COVID-19 pandemic was, more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident."
The report reaffirmed that China's Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronavirus gain-of-function experiments had been conducted for years, is the likely "high-risk" source of the virus. Numerous biosafety failures at the WIV were detailed, all "relevant to the containment of an aerosolized respiratory virus like SARS-CoV-2."
Although much of the report restates with greater confidence claims and evidence previously reported on, Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, noted that Senate Republicans broke new ground with their discussion of communist China's rapid vaccine development.
The report stated that "it is unusual" that communist Chinese researchers were able to hit early milestones in COVID-19 vaccine development quicker than the United States.
In the exhibits provided and the questions asked, HELP Republicans intimated that China had access to the full genomic sequence of the virus well in advance of January 11, 2020, when a professor in China uploaded it to a global virus database in violation of communist Chinese restrictions on sharing information relevant to the novel virus.
In addition to being suggestive of China's willingness to hide critical lifesaving information from the world, the foreknowledge of genetic information about the virus might indicate a working Chinese understanding of SARS-CoV-2 predating the outbreak.
Response and next steps
The report appears to vindicate those castigated in recent years for suggesting that the virus was synthetic and released from the Wuhan lab. The New York Times and the Washington Post both called the claim that COVID-19 came from the WIV a "fringe theory."
CBS News had denounced Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) as a conspiracy theorist.
Sen. Richard Burr said he hopes the report "will guide the World Health Organization and other international institutions and researchers as they proceed with planned work to continue investigating the origins of the virus. Uncovering the answers to this critical question is imperative to our national and international ability to ensure that a pandemic of this size and scope does not happen again."
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) issued a statement on Thursday in which he lauded the HELP committee Republican staff "for their evidence-based report that confirms the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted from a research-related incident."
Marshall considered the domestic implications of the Republican members' findings and suggested that the "lack of NIH grant oversight may have contributed to the horrible introduction of COVID-19 to the world."
Having recently connected NIAID Director Anthony Fauci to EcoHealth Alliance's gain-of-function experiments in China, Marshall wrote, "If Dr. Fauci is truly open minded, as he claims to be, then he will release all texts, emails, communications, and grant records completely and without redactions."
Fauci has long suggested that the virus occurred naturally. He repeatedly dismissed the lab-leak theory, calling it a "circular argument." However, in recent months, he has reportedly adopted an "open mind." It may have been previously closed owing to the responsibility he might have to assume, having previously defended federal funding for research on bat coronaviruses at the WIV.
House Republicans have indicated that when they win a majority in November, they will hold Fauci accountable.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, "Dr. Fauci lost the trust of the American people when his guidance unnecessarily kept schools closed and businesses shut while obscuring questions about his knowledge on the origins of COVID. He owes the American people answers."
ABC News reported that Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) stated in August, "Retirement can't shield Dr. Fauci from congressional oversight."
While the House prepares to press Fauci and others for answers pertaining to COVID-19's "likely" lab origins, the Senate will press on with its bipartisan investigation.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the HELP committee, indicated that the bipartisan review of COVID's origins will continue. In a Thursday statement she said, "It is absolutely critical we learn the lessons from this pandemic so that we never find ourselves in a similar situation again—and that, of course, includes undertaking a full examination of how COVID-19 first emerged."
Sen. Marshall takes up some of the information explored in the bipartisan inquiry in this video:
Investigating COVID-19 Origins: A Conversation With Senator Roger Marshallyoutu.be