Two weeks ago, House Republicans on the 'Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis,' frustrated with Democrats' refusal to schedule an official hearing despite having the platform to do so, held their own informal committee meeting to examine the origins of COVID-19—specifically whether it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. During the three-hour hearing, led by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Republicans heard from scientists and other experts who stressed the need for government transparency surrounding COVID-19. Many Republican lawmakers not on the committee echoed that sentiment, urging a thorough investigation into the possibility COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab.
Of particular interest during the hearing was Rep. Jim Jordan's (R-OH) testimony concerning the flurry of email activity that took place on Jan 31 and Feb 1, 2020, between Dr. Anthony Fauci—who was invited but did not attend the meeting—and eleven of his international colleagues revolving around gain-of-function research and the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Jordan emphasized that during what amounts to approximately thirteen hours, a busy Dr. Fauci and his colleagues exchanged over twenty-five emails (all heavily or completely redacted) to discuss and organize a confidential teleconference with each other.
As explained by Jordan in the video clip above, the email igniting the frenzy was sent by Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist in the United Kingdom. Received by Dr. Fauci at 10:32 pm on Jan. 31, 2020, the email was in response to one he first sent to Andersen roughly four hours earlier. Attached to the email was a ScienceMag article written by Jon Cohen titled 'Mining coronavirus genomes for clues to the outbreak's origins.' The article examined conflicts over risky 'gain-of-function' experiments and outlined scientists' investigation of genomes to explain the origin of the virus. It also reviewed the investigative experiments carried out by Wuhan Institute of Virology Director Shi Zhengli and her partner Peter Daszak (EcoHealth Alliance) on thousands of bats along with the discovery of hundreds of new coronaviruses.
After touching on several hypotheses for the origin of the virus, the article declares, "The viral sequences, most researchers say, also knock down the idea the pathogen came from a virology institute in Wuhan." Despite that statement, Andersen—not convinced the article makes a solid case for an evolutionary origin of the virus—replied to Fauci, saying:
"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 continues, "I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike, and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory."
Next, at 12:29 am on Feb. 1, 2020, two hours after receiving Andersen's email, Dr. Fauci sent an email to his deputy, Hugh Auchincloss, M.D, with whom he has worked for fifteen years. The 'subject line' read "IMPORTANT." The 'attachments line' read "Baric, Shi et al. - Nature medicine - SARS Gain of function.pdf." The short email stated, "It is essential that we speak this AM. Keep your cell phone on." Adding, "Read this paper as well as the email that I will forward to you now. You will have tasks today that must be done." The email immediately forwarded by Fauci was the ScienceMag article that prompted Andersen's observation that the virus was "inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory."
In his testimony, Rep. Jordan stressed that Andersen's reply to Fauci—suggesting that after examining the sequences, the genome looks (potentially) engineered—is the catalyst that sparked the evolution of the teleconference between Fauci and the other key virologists from around the world. Of interest, prior to the teleconference, Fauci sent an email to the group with a PDF attachment named "Coronavirus sequence comparison .pdf." Jeremy Farrar replied to Fauci, commenting, "Kristen [Kristian] and Eddie have shared this and will talk through it on the call. Thank you. Hope it will help frame the discussions."
Notably, absent altogether from the planning, and subsequent teleconference is then head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Deborah Birx, then-Assistant Secretary of HHS, Dr. Giroir, and anyone from President Trump's coronavirus task force. The two screenshots below of the Feb. 1, 2020 email outline the details for the teleconference.
A Closer Look At The Experts on Teleconference
Farrar—a leader not only in setting up the teleconference with Fauci and the others but also in managing the global pandemic—is Director of the Wellcome Trust, a London-based charitable foundation with a $40.2 billion investment portfolio that "supports science to solve urgent health challenges." On Feb. 1, 2018, Wellcome was admitted by the WHO's Executive Board as a non-state actor in official relations with the WHO, which means the company can interact more directly with WHO global health partners and processes.
About eight months before the start of the pandemic (May 15, 2019), WHO and Wellcome Trust announced the organizations had become partners, focusing on three extensive areas of work: health emergencies and epidemic preparedness, anti-microbial resistance, and supporting the acceleration of health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through research, innovation, and data. Remarking that "epidemic preparedness is key for both organizations," the partners explained that, as part of a joint initiative with the UK's Department for International Development, Wellcome provides funding for WHO's Research and Development (R&D) Blueprint activities. Formed in 2016, R&D Blueprint "is a global strategy and preparedness plan that allows the rapid activation of research and development activities during epidemics."
In March 2020, Farrar, who Chairs the WHO's Scientific Advisory Group, announced that, together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, and the World Economic Forum (W.E.F.), the Wellcome Trust committed up to $125 million in seed funding to "speed-up the response to the COVID-19 epidemic" by creating the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
Serving on the Board of the WHO's Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMD), Farrar (a member of the UK's Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE) was one of the first to warn investors—on Jan. 31, 2020—about the expected "impact of a disease for which humanity had no immunity," according to the WSJ. Remarkably, Farrah's warning came when there were only six known cases of COVID-19 in the United States. At the same time, H.H.S. Secretary Alex Azar had just announced there was little danger of the virus spreading in the U.S. The WSJ article continued:
"Dr. Farrar said the virus appeared "highly infectious," as was evident in China and "increasingly, in the rest of the world." He also nodded at its fallout, saying airlines and potentially ships would stop traveling and supply chains and workplaces would be interrupted. From there, it rippled outward."
On Apr. 6, 2020, Farrar wrote a letter to G20 Governments calling for immediate action to "address our deepening global health and economic crises caused by COVID-19." Farrar asked the leaders to form a close working alliance with CEPI (of which he is a founding partner and Board member) and GAVI (echoed in Biden's National Strategy) and provide emergency support for global health initiatives led by the WHO and emergency actions to restore the global economy.
In the Feb. 12, 2021 edition of China CDC Weekly, Farrar (who has co-authored articles on avian influenza with virologist George Fu Gao, the Director-General of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and a recipient of Wellcome Trust funding) wrote a commentary titled "COVID-19—2021: A New, Less Predictable Phase of the Pandemic." Commenting that "we may still be closer to the start of this pandemic than the end," Farrar spoke of the inevitability of the "more transmissible COVID-19 variants with higher case fatality" that render anti-viral treatments ineffective, noting the "imperative to reduce transmission everywhere." Calling for debt relief to poorer countries and a global response to climate change, Farrar, who declared COVID-19 "is here for the human race for the future," went on to summarize the pandemic:
"We knew a year ago that this virus had all the characteristics capable of causing a devastating global pandemic. An animal virus that had crossed the species barrier and could infect humans, for which humanity had no immunity. We knew there was human-to-human transmission, we knew people were infectious when they were asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, that it could cause a mild illness and also a very severe illness leading tragically to people dying. We knew the genomic sequences of the virus and we knew we had no diagnostic tests, no specific treatments, or vaccines. We also knew this initially emerged in a very densely populated city with highly connected transport links. Since we had all that information at the end of January 2020, the trajectory of the pandemic has in many ways been highly predictable."
Sir Patrick Vallance FRS FMedSci FRCP
Vallance is the Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of Government Science and Engineering Profession (GCSA) in the United Kingdom. Before his current role, Vallance was the former President of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline, approving more than 14 new medicines for use worldwide for diseases extending from cancer to asthma and HIV. Working closely with the Gates Foundation, the British pharmaceutical company, dates back to 1715. On Jun. 4, 2021, Vallance joined Melinda French Gates and G7 leaders to announce their "100 Days Mission" in continuing to deal with the pandemic. Vallance, a member of the U.K.'s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), was asked by Boris Johnson late last month to investigate whether the U.K.'s "successful" vaccine program can be reproduced in other areas of technology.
Kristian Andersen, PhD
Andersen is a Professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research. For the past ten years, his research has focused on the complex relationship between host and pathogen. On Jan. 30, 2020, Scripps announced a five-year, $50 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support "efforts to fight malaria and tuberculosis and address emerging global health threats such as the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)." After questioning the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 in his email to Dr. Fauci on Jan. 31, 2020, in March, Andersen co-authored an article in Nature Medicine (along with teleconference participants Garry, Holmes, and Rambaut as well as Ian Lipkin) that explicitly declared:
“By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.” And as Andersen and colleagues concluded, the results “clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
Robert F. Garry, Jr., PhD
Garry is a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Tulane Medical School. Dr. Garry has published over 100 papers in the area of retrovirology. In addition to N.I.H. funding, Garry's work is also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft Academia lists Kristian Andersen as Garry's top co-author of publications and citations. The top ten list also includes Andrew Rambaut and Eddie Holmes.
Dr. Christian Drosten
Drosten is the Director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin—which lists the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a "primary funder." Drosten helped identify the Sars virus in 2003. In 2014, the Gates Foundation awarded Charitè $5.7 million in funding to develop a cure for Ebola. Drosten's focus is on novel (emergent) viruses. He gained national prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic as an expert on the implications and actions needed to combat the virus in his country. Serving on Germany's International Advisory Board on Global Health since 2018 (along with Jeremy Farrar) throughout the pandemic, Drosten has supported lockdowns in Germany. Drosten has joined his teleconference colleagues to argue there is not "scientifically-validated evidence" pointing towards a lab-related incident.
Ferguson is the Regius Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee in Scotland, where he runs The Ferguson Lab of Parasite Glycobiology and Anti-Parasite Drug Discovery. He is affiliated with the Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery and the Wellcome Center for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR). Since at least 2018, Ferguson has been involved in mRNA research. He co-authored a manuscript submitted to the Royal Society Publishing on Nov. 12, 2019, titled, "CAP-MAP: cap analysis protocol with minimal analyte processing, a rapid and sensitive approach to analysing mRNA cap structures." The study was funded in part by the Wellcome Trust Center, of which Ferguson is Deputy Chair of Governors. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has repeatedly funded research at Dundee University for projects such as developing the world's first male contraceptive, $3 million for tuberculosis research, and six-figure funding in May 2020 to screen existing medical treatments in a bid to determine their potential effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2. In June 2020, the University received almost $6 million from the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
Koopmans is the Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience. She is also the Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Arbovirus and Haemorrhagic Fever Reference and Research and Scientific Director "Emerging Infectious Diseases" of the Netherlands Center for One Health (NCOH). Serving alongside Farrar at the WHO on the Scientific Advisory Group, Koopman's work focuses on "unraveling the modes of transmission of viruses among animals and between animals and humans, and the use of pathogenic genomic information to unravel these pathways and to signal changes in transmission or disease impact." A leading scientist on the WHO's COVID-19 mission to China, Koopman has received funding from the CDC, the Wellcome Trust, and WHO, among others. In early 2021, appointed by the WHO, Koopman was part of a 28-day mission in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Prof. R.A.M. (Ron) Fouchier
Fouchier is the Deputy Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience. Known for his NIH-funded research into H5N1—which is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered—Fouchier's controversial work achieved the "holy grail of influenza research" by engineering the H5N1 bird flu virus so that it could pass easily between mammals. Fouchier explained the "airborne" virus had been created by the relatively low-tech method of "passaging H5N1 repeatedly through ferrets."
Fouchier's work "triggered a worldwide furor in late 2011," when, according to ScienceMag, "the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) judged that it should not be published without striking the most sensitive details. In the wrong hands, the N.S.A.B.B. reasoned, the studies could be used to turn H5N1 into a bioweapon."
The U.S. funds Fouchier's work, with current projects listed as "US HHS/BARDA contract" (antigenic drift, vaccines); "US NIH/NIAID contract Center of Excellence for Influenza research" (influenza)." R.A.M.F. (Ron A M Fouchier) has received research support for gain-of-function research from the NIH, the NIAID, and the European Union. Defending his H5N1 research, Forchier—who has quietly worked alongside Anthony Fauci for years—has been quoted as saying that "Mother Nature is the biggest bioterrorist."
Edward (Eddie) Holmes
Professor of Science at The University of Sydney. Holmes is "known for his work on the evolution and emergence of infectious diseases, particularly the mechanisms by which RNA viruses jump species boundaries to emerge in humans and other animals." Holmes, who said in Jan. 2021 that an update would be needed for the COVID-19 vaccine, published on Jan. 6, 2020, the sequence for the novel 2019 coronavirus genome, calling it "ground zero for the scientific fight back against the disease."
Holmes is currently a Guest Professor at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, China. No stranger to studying SARS-CoV and R.N.A. virus evolution, in 2004 Holmes co-authored an article titled "The population genetics and evolutionary epidemiology of R.N.A. viruses," which concluded that, "due to the threat posed by viral diseases," it is important to establish the rules of R.N.A. virus evolution, adding, "the beauty of R.N.A. viruses is that the link between experimental and natural systems can be made simply — few other organisms are as well suited for studying evolutionary processes."
Pöhlmann is Professor, Head of the Infection Biology Unit, German Primate Center. He investigates emerging viruses and how they interact with host cells and cause diseases. His focus is on lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, Ebola virus, and SARS coronavirus. His research aims to develop cell culture systems that allow predicting transmissibility and thus the pandemic potential of emerging viruses. The NIH supports his study.
Andrew Rambaut FRSE
Rambaut, who has collaborated with Farrar on numerous projects, is a member of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Edinburgh. The central focus of the Rambaut lab is the evolution of emerging human viral pathogens, particularly fast-evolving RNA viruses that have been sampled through time. Since at least 2018, Rambaut's work has focused on "developing computational and statistical approaches to viral genome sequence analysis in real-time during an outbreak or epidemic." A member of SAGE, Rambaut is the recipient of funding from Wellcome Trust for real-time viral genome sequencing, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for HIV genome sequencing, as well as other UK-funded research.
Schreier is the Chief Operating Officer at Wellcome Trust, joining the operation in Sept. 2019. Before that, Schreier was Chief Executive Officer of Hakluyt & Company. He was also Deputy Vice-Chancellor and COO of Macquarie University in Australia, a senior civil servant advising the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet, a partner in McKinsey & Co's management consultancy practice, and a commanding officer in the Royal Navy. In Oct. 2020, Schreier called for an additional $7.2 billion for the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
Experts Release Critical Review Paper to Set the Record Straight
On July 8, 2021, many of the experts on the teleconference published a critical review paper on the evidence surrounding the origin of SARS-CoV-2, concluding that, overwhelmingly, the most likely origin of the virus is zoonotic—a transfer from an animal source to human infection. The authors note that a lab accident "cannot be entirely dismissed," but they insist that there currently exists "zero evidence for such a laboratory origin." The paper states:
"There is no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), in contrast to the clear epidemiological links to animal markets in Wuhan, nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic."