An explosive report from a government watchdog found several problems with a grant program that provided American taxpayer dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the lab where COVID-19 may have originated.
Over the last decade, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided $8 million to EcoHealth, a public health NGO, and EcoHealth passed at least $1.8 million of that funding along to WIV.
Those grants “lacked proper oversight,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.
“We conclude that NIH missed opportunities to more effectively monitor research,” the OIG said in a 72-page report published online.
One of the grants awarded to WIV through EcoHealth was a $3.7 million award titled, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” which was awarded in May of 2014.
EcoHealth, and by extension NIH, failed to conduct proper oversight of those research activities and others, according to the report.
In other words, the U.S. government funded — and failed to monitor — the Chinese research lab — and maybe even the research — that may have spawned the COVID-19 pandemic and a global economic crisis.
So how did that happen?
The NIH is comprised of more than two dozen specialized health institutes, among them the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which was led from 1984 until 2022, by Anthony S. Fauci. The NIH grant that ultimately ended up funding virological research at WIV in Wuhan flowed through NIAID as part of more than billions of dollars in grants Fauci’s agency awarded every year.
The WIV lab suddenly stopped cooperating with EcoHealth and NIH after the COVID-19 outbreak went global, spreading far beyond Wuhan, where the virus started and where the WIV lab is based. That abrupt drop off in cooperation made proper oversight, which EcoHealth already was failing to provide, even more difficult, according to the OIG.
EcoHealth is described in the report as an “global environmental health nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and public health from the emergence of disease.”
In a grant application to EcoHealth, WIV described itself as “China’s premier institute for virological research,” according to the OIG.
Part of the research the Fauci’s NIAID funded at WIV, via EcoHealth, involved what’s known as “gain of function” research. The controversial practice involves manipulating viruses to give them new capabilities, like increased lethality or transmissibility. President Barack Obama put a pause on that research technique in October of 2014, but his administration later lifted the prohibition on Jan. 9, 2017.
In Congressional testimony in May of 2021, Fauci denied that NIAID had funded gain of function research at WIV.
NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” he said.
Was WIV performing gain of function research with U.S. dollars in violation of federal policy from 2014 to 2017 or thereafter?
There’s no practical way for the U.S. to know. An NIH evaluation of EcoHealth’s work under the grant found evidence that gain of function research was occuring. But in the report, EcoHealth denies that the research met the technical specifications to be treated as gain of function research.
However, EcoHealth didn’t have the best understanding of what was going on at WIV. The OIG found “EcoHealth did not ensure that subawards were compliant with Federal requirements, did not ensure compliance with subrecipient monitoring and reporting requirements, and did not comply with certain public disclosure requirements associated with reporting subaward funding.”
The report also found that EcoHealth violated federal regulations by failing to provide necessary information regarding consultants and sub-recipients of the grant money.
EcoHealth’s negligent oversight became further compromised when WIV stopped cooperating following the outbreak.
“Although WIV cooperated with EcoHealth’s monitoring for several years, WIV’s lack of cooperation following the COVID 19 outbreak limited EcoHealth’s ability to monitor its subrecipient,” the OIG states.
In other words, once that money went to WIV, Fauci’s NIAID had no way of knowing what was happening because its partner, EcoHealth, wasn’t performing oversight, and when all hell broke loose in December 2019 and January 2020, WIV started the cover-up.
The OIG doesn’t speculate on why the WIV lab would suddenly stop cooperating with the American-funded NGO paying it to study bat viruses right after a bat virus escaped from the WIV lab and created a global pandemic.
But let’s back up a step.
LAB LEAK HYPOTHESIS
The furious debate over the origins of COVID-19 started with government officials and left-wing media personalities denying that the virus could have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and insisting that claims that it did were conspiracy theories.
In May of 2020, Fauci was already disputing the idea that the virus came from a lab.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated … Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” he said.
When U.S. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) speculated about the lab origin, the New York Times called his remarks a “conspiracy theory,” and the Washington Post reported Cotton “keeps repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.”
If you speculated on social media about the so-called “lab origin hypothesis,” you were likely to get censored, perhaps even at the direction of the U.S. federal government’s Twitter liason.
However, legitimate non-partisan investigative reporting and government reviews have now concluded that the virus, more likely than not, came from a laboratory, specifically the WIV lab at ground zero for the outbreak.
Any objective analysis will conclude that the COVID-19 virus more likely than not originated from a lab in Wuhan, China. Even Fauci has backed off his earlier claims. Last November, he said he had a “completely open mind” about the lab-leak theory, despite his previous comments to the contrary.
An official determination that the virus originated at WIV would be problematic for several U.S. government officials, including Fauci, as well as EcoHealth.
Taken together, all of this information suggests that the U.S. government sent taxpayer money from NIH to NIAID to EcoHealth to WIV, and that money was used to fund research in a troubled laboratory that could have spawned the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ironically, a host of organizations nominally tasked with protecting public health may have brought about the worst public health crisis in generations thanks to shoddy research, bad oversight, and mismanaged government programs.
To recap: The NIH, an agency led by Fauci, provided large taxpayer funded grants to EcoHealth, which in turn partnered with WIV for experimental research.
Here’s what the OIG report found regarding this arrangement:
- “NIH did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth’s compliance with some requirements…”
- “Although NIH and EcoHealth had established monitoring procedures, we found deficiencies in complying with those procedures limited NIH and EcoHealth’s ability to effectively monitor Federal grant awards and subawards to understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action…”
- “NIH did not refer the research to HHS for an outside review for enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) because it determined the research did not involve and was not reasonably anticipated to create, use, or transfer an ePPP…”
- We found that NIH was only able to conclude that research resulted in virus growth that met specified benchmarks based on a late progress report from EcoHealth that NIH failed to follow up on until nearly 2 years after its due date…”
- Based on our review of documentation that EcoHealth provided OIG, we found that EcoHealth officials met with WIV staff in person on at least 20 occasions between June 2014 and December 2019 and traveled to Wuhan, China, to meet with individuals from WIV at least annually during that time to discuss the research conducted under its subaward.
- 27 EcoHealth staff told OIG that they engaged in frequent phone calls and email exchanges with WIV staff throughout the grant period until the time the grant was terminated in April 2020.
The OIG report doesn’t recommend abolishing NIH, terminating any funding for EcoHealth, and launching a criminal investigation.
Instead, the OIG says EcoHealth should refund the federal government $89,171 and make sure that it submits better progress reports in the future.
In response to the reports release, however, a group of U.S. Senators announced that they would advocate for a new dedicated watchdog to monitor how NIH distributed grants.
You can read the report for yourself: