COVID Origin and the Lab Leak Theory
Jon Stewart was just on late night with Stephen Colbert, and his take on the lab-leak theory of COVID surprised the audience. How COVID originated is important, because the answer has the potential to aid in the prevention or mitigation of future pandemics. But there was something that Jon Stewart said that I think is over-the-top.
On May 26, 2021, President Biden directed the U.S. Intelligence Community to step up their investigative efforts into the origin of the pandemic and report back in 90 days. In addition, Australia, the European Union, and Japan have expressed a desire to make a more concerted effort to determine the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. On March 4, 2021, prominent scientists, in an open letter to the World Health Organization, called for a full and unrestricted investigation. Why the sudden interest? A recently released U.S. intelligence report stated that several researchers at China’s WIV fell ill in November 2019 and had to be hospitalized. And just today, there was a study that showed evidence that people had antibodies in the United States in December of 2019.
Lab Leak Theory
The Lab leak theory
Was an employee at the Wuhan virology lab accidentally infected and then spread the virus, especially if the initial contacts were asymptomatic? The largest collection of bat samples, especially ones containing bat coronaviruses, are in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
Could poor lab techniques by inadequately trained technicians allow the virus to escape?
Could researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have made the virus more virulent and transmissible by experimenting with gain of function mutations? These mutations are designed to hasten the evolutionary process so scientists can be prepared for future pandemics.
This theory carries more controversy than the theory that the virus was naturally transmitted. It is more politically charged and has economic, social, and political implications. Unfortunately, this theory received only a brief mention in the WHO report. A mere 4 of the 313 pages of the report were devoted to it.
Several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) became ill in the fall of 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID or the seasonal flu. In November 2019, three of the WIV researchers became sick enough to seek hospital care.
Dr. Robert Redfield believes the current pandemic began in Wuhan as a localized outbreak in September-October 2019. Especially because of how well-adapted this virus is to human ACE2 receptors. This virus essentially hit ground running.
The Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases did not formally notify the U.S. of the cluster of patients with pneumonia until December 31, 2019.
Dr. Robert Kadlac said that China used this 30 day lead time to purchase supplies.
Dr. Redfield spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Dr. George Gao, who was distraught that many people infected with COVID were not at the wet market.
The Precedent for Lab Accidents
Lab accidents have caused previous outbreaks of infection in China and elsewhere. In Beijing, China, for example, an outbreak infected nine people and killed one. A smallpox lab leak occurred in the United Kingdom in 1978, and an anthrax lab leak occurred in the United States in 2014.
Furthermore, Dr. Shi Zhengli aka the bat woman, has admitted that coronavirus research was carried out in labs with Biosafety Level 2 rather than the more stringent Biosafety Level 4. In a Biosafety Level 2 lab, researchers wear white coats and gloves, not protective gear.
U.S. Embassy officials raised concerns about WIV’s lab safety in 2018. These concerns specifically addressed a severe shortage of appropriately trained technicians.
Chinese experts have also expressed concerns about lab safety in their own country, lamenting that “lab trash can contain man‐made viruses, bacteria or microbes” and that “some researchers discharge laboratory materials into the sewer after experiments without a specific biological disposal mechanism.”
U.S. Labs have also been cited for safety issues, including the Biosafety level (BSL)‐4 United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) facility in Fort Detrick.
Marc Lipsitch, a well-known Harvard University epidemiologist, estimated the risk of a pandemic occurring due to an accidental release from a high-security bio lab at between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 10,000 per year. He previously warned about the proliferation of these labs globally.
This theory gains credence when independent journalists, investigators, and global health authorities have been denied access to WIV researchers.
Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine