China is determined to block investigations of where COVID-19 came from. But worse, influential American scientists are going along with censoring any inquiry. They're declaring their "solidarity with the scientists and health professionals of China."
That's a deadly problem. Conquering this virus and devising a vaccine will require unbiased research, no matter where it leads. The best weapon to fight this virus is the truth. The biggest mistake is to limit scientific inquiry and pander to China. We need scientists to be scientists, not political censors.
When Australia called for a formal inquiry into the pandemic's origins, China explicitly threatened to boycott Australian imports, slapping 80% tariffs on barley and restrictions on beef. Countries got the message. The World Health Assembly, the legislative arm of WHO, settled for a watered-down resolution to investigate the global "response" to COVID-19, not its origins.
What we don't know about COVID-19 far exceeds what little is known. But research has already forced China to abandon its original tale that the virus leaped from wild animals to a human at the Huanan Seafood market in December. Some of these new findings will be essential for developing a vaccine and troubleshooting future viral disasters.
Findings by Cambridge University geneticist Peter Forster indicate three different strains of COVID-19 were circulating in China in the summer of 2019, each later predominating in a different part of the world.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Broad Institute, a Harvard and MIT affiliate, indicate the virus was already capable of spreading to humans when it reached Wuhan.
Harvard scientists using aerial photographs of crammed hospital parking lots in Wuhan beginning in August 2019 speculate the virus hit that city months before China admits. China calls that suggestion "ridiculous."
European scientists indicate the disease invaded France, and possibly Italy, by December, though at the time it was thought to be flu.
Most controversially, a new study in Cambridge University's QRB Discovery by three vaccine researchers points to a segment in the virus's genetic code they say may have been engineered in a lab. They argue that the addition is what makes the virus contagious to humans, in addition to wild animals like bats.
These leads need to be investigated further, but instead, they are being denounced as "conspiracy theories." Not just by the Chinese Communist Party, but also by many scientists from prestigious American universities.
On Jan. 31, the World Health Organization praised China for transparency, a lie because they knew China was withholding information.
Then, on Feb. 19, scientists from the University of Chicago, Emory University and other institutions signed a letter in Lancet supporting the WHO director general's call for "unity" with China and condemning any research "suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin."
They "overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife." How could they know so soon?
The EcoHealth Alliance blasted the hypothesis of a lab-engineered genetic component as "the latest chapter in a tale of blame, misinformation, and finger pointing" and warned it could become a platform for "posturing against China ... trade sanctions, and even reparations."
ABC News' medical correspondents claimed that "virologists around the globe have fiercely debunked" the theory. Many attacked it, for sure, but hardly disproved it.
Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, and scientists writing a critique in the journal Nature Medicine argue that "if the new coronavirus had been manufactured in a lab, scientists most likely would have used the backbones of coronaviruses already known to cause serious diseases in humans" rather than inventing something new. "Most likely?" That's a guess, not proof.
On the other hand, infectivity can be the result of naturally occurring mutations. Scripps Research virologists reported June 12 that the COVID-19 virus currently circulating in the U.S. has mutated to be more contagious.
What we know is the virus was spreading months before China disclosed it and did not originate in Wuhan, contrary to China's original claim. Now we need to search for the uncensored truth.
Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.