The Biden Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has discontinued sending federal dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, citing concerns over safety and documentation.
The bio-research lab at the center of the debate over the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic was still receiving federal funding despite multiple U.S. reports that the lab was the origin of the global pandemic that killed millions across the globe. In a memo released on Monday, HHS referenced EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit organization that has been funding viral research around the globe for more than 20 years, and several grants that formed the basis of the HHS funding that went to the lab.
The memo states that there is “adequate evidence which provides cause for the suspension” of the funding. As of now, that suspension is temporary, the memo also notes.
“Due to the WIV’s disregard of the NIH’s requests that WIV provide the required materials to support its research reported in the grant,” it reads, “the NIH’s conclusion that WIV research likely violated protocols of the NIH regarding biosafety is undisputed. As such, there is risk that WIV not only previously violated, but is currently violating, and will continue to violate, protocols of the NIH on biosafety.”
The lab has repeatedly failed to provide key safety information to the U.S. government when asked, and its ties to EcoHealth Alliance have been raising eyebrows among Republicans.
The Wuhan Institute received a sub-award of a 2014 NIH grant that was issued to EcoHealth Alliance, a U.S.-based organization focused on preventing infectious diseases. The grant was for “understanding the risk of bat coronavirus emergence.” EcoHealth Alliance also sent U.S. Agency for International Development funds to the lab.
EcoHealth Alliance attracted significant attention from Republican lawmakers during the pandemic because of its gain-of-function research, which involves extracting viruses from animals and engineering them in a lab to make them more transmissible or dangerous to humans. Two of EcoHealth’s NIH grants involve gain-of-function research and enhanced potential pandemic research on coronaviruses.
The U.S government temporarily paused funding for gain-of-function research in 2014 due to concerns over biosafety and biosecurity. However, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases staff and EcoHealth leaders found loopholes to allow the nonprofit to continue its work infecting genetically-engineered mice with hybrid viruses until the pause was lifted in 2017.
The suspension of the grant funds comes after an audit, which focused on three NIH awards to EcoHealth between 2014 and 2021. Those grants totaled around $8 million, and a portion of that money did go to the Wuhan Institute. According to the HHS memo, the NIH “missed opportunities to more effectively monitor research.”
Republicans have been extremely vocal in trying to find the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and determine the U.S. government’s involvement in any research that would have made it possible for the virus to jump to humans and cause such catastrophic damage. Most recently, a House subcommittee looking into the pandemic released an email showing that Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the time with the NIH, knew that the U.S. was involved in the gain-of-function research necessary to make the coronavirus pandemic possible.