Home News U.S. suspends funding to group central to battle over origins of coronavirus

U.S. suspends funding to group central to battle over origins of coronavirus

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Under intense pressure from House lawmakers, the Biden administration moved Wednesday to ban funding to a prominent virus-hunting nonprofit whose work with Chinese scientists has made it central to theories that the coronavirus escaped from a lab.

The decision was announced in a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services searing congressional hearings Lawmakers this month lashed out at the group’s president, saying he misrepresented his work with virologists in Wuhan, China, where the pandemic began. Republicans went a step further, calling for a criminal investigation into Peter Daszak, president of the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance.

For EcoHealth companies that rely on federal funding to study viral threats to wildlife, the loss of funding is another twist in a saga that has long dominated discussions about how the pandemic began.

In April 2020, the National Institutes of Health ended funding for EcoHealth as the Trump administration feuded with China over the origins of the coronavirus.Three years later, a Internal Federal Regulatory Agency Determination The NIH failed to give a valid reason for terminating the funding, which provides an average of about $625,000 per year. The National Institutes of Health has relaunched a streamlined version of the award.

Now, as Republicans step up their opposition to ecological health and Democrats join in the outrage, the Biden administration is once again cutting off funding for ecological health.

Health officials said they are suspending three active NIH grants to EcoHealth, which totaled $2.6 million last year. They proposed banning the group from receiving future federal research funding. Such bans usually last no more than three years, but they can be longer or shorter, they said.

In explaining the decision, health officials cited a series of missteps The National Institutes of Health (NIH) first reported about three years ago. Chief among them, health officials said, was EcoHealth’s failure to promptly report results from a study of how bat coronaviruses grew in mice.

“I believe that an immediate suspension of EHA is necessary to protect the public interest,” health department official Henrietta K. Brisbon wrote of EcoHealth Alliance.

She cited problems with EcoHealth’s oversight of the work of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which allocated some of EcoHealth’s grants; late submissions of progress reports; and the possibility that a risky experiment violated the terms of the grant.

EcoHealth said it will challenge the proposal to bar it from receiving federal funding.

“We strongly disagree with this decision and will provide evidence to rebut these allegations and demonstrate that NIH’s continued support of the EcoHealth Alliance is in the public interest,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

EcoHealth also faced skepticism over a 2018 federal grant proposal to collaborate with the same Wuhan virology lab on coronavirus experiments that Republicans believed could lead to a pandemic, although the project was never awarded funds.

But despite all the scrutiny of ecological health, there is still no evidence that it is directly linked to the start of the pandemic.

federal health officials Said many times The virus being studied by the Wuhan lab using taxpayer funds bears no resemblance to the virus that caused the coronavirus outbreak, so they cannot be held responsible for the public health crisis.

Many scientists, including some cited by House lawmakers in recent weeks as critical of ecological health, say early cases and viral genomes point to a different origin of the pandemic: an illegal wildlife market in Wuhan. Samples collected from the market last year were found to contain genetic material from the coronavirus and animals such as raccoon dogs, which scientists said was consistent with a market source.

Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a Republican who chairs the Special Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, which held hearings this month, raised questions about the EcoHealth Fund. Pause to celebrate. He called this “not only a victory for American taxpayers, but also a victory for American national security and the safety of citizens around the world.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz of California, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, also welcomed the decision, describing EcoHealth’s actions as “a departure from the long-established good faith relationship between NIH and federal grantees.” partnership”.

Last year, the Biden administration Ban Wuhan Institute of Virology Receive federal funding for 10 years.

EcoHealth failed to comply with federal regulations and must now also be banned, the health department said in a statement. But the health department did not respond to questions about the timing of the decision, nearly three years after health officials released most of the facts cited in their assessment.

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