Biden, the Predict program, and coronavirus
It's always surprising how gullible people are. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden recently pledged to restore funding to Predict, a U.S.-funded global initiative tasked with searching for dangerous animal viruses and training researchers from around the world to contain them. However, it is not a coincidence that the greatest pandemic in a century emerged in close proximity to Predict's Chinese partner, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) — China's only human biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory. Yet it seems that Biden actually believes the denials of the Chinese government, the WIV's researchers, and their partners in the Predict program that COVID-19 originated in their medical research university.
President Trump, who eventually terminated Predict, described an NIH grant for dangerous bat coronavirus research given to the WIV as a "terrible thing" and "mistake" that he blamed on the Obama-Biden administration. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo even suggested that there was "enormous evidence" linking the COVID-19 outbreak with the WIV. However, both Trump and Pompeo may have actually understated their case. One of Predict's major responsibilities in 2015 was training virus researchers at the WIV to safely contain the bat coronavirus samples collected as part of the NIH grant. Considering that these coronavirus samples were stored near the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Predict program and researchers at the WIV clearly succeeded in finding dangerous animal viruses but failed in the more important task of containing them.
China's sheer size and lack of BSL-4 facilities make it statistically highly unlikely that COVID-19 emerged in such close proximity to the WIV by natural causes alone. By definition, BSL-4 labs maintain the highest level of precautionary standards, suggesting that the facility dropped the ball in its handling of coronavirus samples, especially because initial suspicions that the virus originated in a wet market were later disproven. Laboratory accidents resulting in the release of a coronavirus pathogen are not rare. In fact, there are at least three documented instances of coronavirus SARS, a cousin to COVID-19, escaping from a research laboratory. In 2014, the Obama-Biden administration gave a $3.4-million, five-year NIH grant to WIV and its U.S. partner, EcoHealth Alliance, to conduct "bat sample collection" and "fully characterize natural SARSr-CoV diversity in southern China." In plain English, the Obama-Biden administration paid researchers at the WIV to search bat caves in southern China for new and incredibly dangerous strains of bat coronavirus and stockpile the resulting samples for further research in their headquarters at Wuhan. Realizing that it lacked the facilities to contain a particularly virulent or contagious coronavirus strain, the WIV later opened China's first BSL-4 lab in 2015. Unfortunately, BSL-4 safety protocols have become what the Chinese would call an ineffectual "paper tiger," with no central, independent, expert oversight agency to ensure compliance with standards or any real consequences for violating them.
In 2018, the Trump administration's State Department sent science diplomats to the WIV to monitor laboratory safety. These diplomats detected safety and management weaknesses that they felt could result in a coronavirus pandemic and warned the U.S. government. The researchers at the WIV, including Deputy Director Shi Zhengli, have claimed that COVID-19 could not have originated in their medical research university, but their credibility is severely undermined by the fact that they never responded to the serious safety concerns raised by the Trump administration long before the pandemic began.
Supporters of the WIV and the Predict program, including former president Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Kamala Harris, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are all guilty of poor judgment in funding dangerous virus research without proper oversight. The world would be a safer place if the researchers at the WIV had left COVID-19 in a bat cave. Instead, they collected it, carried it to their headquarters, and accidentally released it due in no small part to poor safety training from Predict. The U.S. taxpayer footed the bill for the whole fiasco.
Vijay Jojo Chokal Ingam is the author of Coronavirus COVID-19 Originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (CoronavirusExplanation.com). He is an expert in medical education and has appeared on CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and China Central Television. Jo wrote his master's thesis at UCLA on the health care policies of the Chinese government. He has also previously worked at the Division of Infectious Diseases, Allergy, and Immunology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine (SLUSOM). In 2017, Jo filed a complaint against SLUSOM with the oversight body for American medical schools, which subsequently placed the school on probation for nineteen months. He has been called a "health education expert" by health care officials in the People's Republic of China. His previous books include Almost Black.
Image: U.S. Gov.