The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic announced this development, stating that it is an "obvious decision." The decision comes after an HHS memo was published, outlining the lab's immediate suspension and proposed debarment.
According to the memo, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the immediate suspension of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is necessary to protect the public interest. The lab has been found to have altered a virus in a way that significantly increased its infectiousness, violating the terms of a grant. The memo also highlights the lab's violation of biosafety protocols, which is undisputed.
For years, Republicans have been pushing for the termination of funding to the Wuhan lab, believing it to be the likely source of the COVID-19 virus. The Senate GOP's "Muddy Waters: The Origins of COVID-19" report in January concluded that the pandemic was more likely the result of a research-related incident rather than having natural origins. The report also pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as the likely "high-risk" source of the virus.
One of the reasons to suspect the lab's involvement is the revelation that the three "patient zeros" infected with COVID-19 in November 2019 were reportedly researchers at the lab. Additionally, scientists at the lab have been accused of using funds from the EcoHealth Alliance to create a highly infectious super-coronavirus. There are also allegations that the Chinese military may have been pursuing dual-use capabilities in "virological biological weapons and vaccines" at the lab.
The decision to end funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology comes after a report from the HHS Office of Inspector General criticized the NIH for its oversight of grants managed by the EcoHealth Alliance. The report stated that the NIH had known about potential risks associated with the research being performed at the Wuhan lab but did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address compliance issues.
It is worth noting that the lab has allegedly not received federal money directly since 2020. However, it has 30 days to respond to the notice regarding the cessation of U.S. funding. Dr. Richard Ebright, a biologist at Rutgers University, raised concerns about the EcoHealth Alliance, which still receives more than $51 million in U.S. government grants and contracts. He questioned when the alliance would be debarred from receiving U.S. government funding.
EcoHealth Alliance has been a major funder of research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology but has resisted efforts to investigate what went wrong. Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, previously dismissed suggestions that the virus might have leaked from the lab as "conspiracy theories." The recent HHS memo notes that EcoHealth has failed to produce requested materials to the NIH, similar to the Wuhan lab.
While the Trump administration cut off funding to EcoHealth in 2020, the Biden administration's NIH renewed a grant to the alliance in May. Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee introduced legislation in June to prevent EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology from receiving funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development and other financial streams linked to the Department of State.
The termination of funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology marks a significant step in holding the lab accountable for its actions. It is a response to mounting evidence suggesting that the lab played a role in the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision also raises questions about the oversight of grants and the responsibility of organizations like the EcoHealth Alliance in funding potentially risky research.