NIH director confirms agency hid early COVID genes at request of Chinese scientists
( NYPost )
National Institutes of Health acting director Lawrence Tabak confirmed to lawmakers Wednesday that US health officials concealed early genomic sequences of COVID-19 at the request of Chinese scientists — but insisted the data remains on file.
Tabak told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the NIH “eliminated from public view” the data from the pandemic epicenter in Wuhan, China, before adding that researchers can still access it via an archaic “tape drive.”
Vanity Fair recently reported that the information was hidden in response to a request from Chinese scientists, despite potentially resolving whether the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or passed naturally from animals to humans.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) asked Tabek to explain why US officials would comply with such a request.
“There’s no question that the communication that we had about the sequence archive — Sequence Read Archive — could have been improved. I freely admit that,” Tabek said. “If I may, the archive never deleted the sequence, it just did not make it available for interrogation.”
“So wait, you have the information still?” Beutler followed up.
“We have the information … Anybody who submits to the Sequence Read Archive is allowed to ask for it to be removed,” Tabak explained. “And that investigator did do that. But we never erase it.”
“So you don’t have the information anymore?” Beutler asked.
“We do. We never erase the information. We keep it,” Tabak clarified.
“So they were able to withdraw public viewing of it?” the congresswoman followed up.
“That’s correct,” he said.
“OK, so researchers can apply to the NIH and get the information from you?” Beutler asked.
“In the way that it was originally eliminated from public view, it was withdrawn, and that’s the most difficult for people to access,” Tabak replied. “The error that was made, and we found this out after a review of all of our processes, was it should have been suppressed. The distinction being that if it’s withdrawn, it is kept archivally on a tape drive — old technology, but that’s how it’s done. But when it is withdrawn, it can still be accessed by accession number, and so researchers are able to access that information.”
“So the information is still there?” Beutler summed up.
“That’s correct. The information was never lost,” Tabak repeated.
In a March 31 article, Vanity Fair reported that evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom discovered last year that early COVID-19 sequences had disappeared from a federally run data repository.
When Bloom raised the issue, he was reportedly ganged up on by a group of researchers assembled by then-NIH Director Francis Collins and infectious disease institute head Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Bloom shared a draft academic paper with Collins and Fauci, who allegedly objected on a June 2021 Zoom video conference to Bloom’s description of Chinese scientists “surreptitiously” removing the sequences. Fauci said the word was “loaded” and implied a coverup, the report said.
Evolutionary biologist Kristian Andersen, who was selected to participate on the call by Collins, allegedly told Bloom that the Wuhan team had a right to claw back early pandemic information and that it was unethical for Bloom to question it.
Andersen allegedly went so far as to offer to delete Bloom’s article from a “preprint” server “in a way that would leave no record that this had been done.”
China’s government has refused to cooperate with an international investigation of the origins of the pandemic. The COVID-19 virus has killed about 1 million Americans since March 2020 and caused massive social, economic and educational disruptions.
The US intelligence community said in an August report that it’s possible the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, calling the theory one of two “plausible” explanations along with natural transmission from animals.
President Biden rarely speaks publicly about wanting China to be transparent about the origins of the pandemic. Former President Donald Trump, by contrast, has demanded that China pay $10 trillion in reparations.
The Biden administration is considering undoing some of Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods “separately” from US pressure for coronavirus transparency, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told The Post on Monday.
Documents published in September by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded so-called “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab — including the modification three bat coronaviruses distinct from COVID-19 and the discovery that they became much more infectious among “humanized” mice when human-type receptors were added to them.