A group of international scientists and health experts has called for the board of New York nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance to remove Dr. Peter Daszak as president in the wake of reporting about his ties to a Chinese lab where the COVID-19 pandemic may have originated.
The letter — which was dated Thursday and was also sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins and White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci — accused the British-born Daszak of having “concealed several extreme situations of conflict of interest, withheld critical information and misled public opinion by expressing falsehoods.”
“Despite that,” the letter goes on, “we have not seen any indication at all of disapproval of the behavior of Dr. Daszak by the [EcoHealth Alliance] Board, nor are we aware of any investigation by the Board, as would seemingly be required under New York law.”
The letter was made public days after the disbanding of a United Nations-backed commission that had been tasked with investigating the origins of the deadly pandemic due to the number of members with ties to the nonprofit.
Daszak had also been a member of the commission, but recused himself in June.
“I just didn’t want a task force that was so clearly involved with one of the main issues of this whole search for the origins, which was EcoHealth Alliance,” Columbia University professor Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the last chairman of the commission, told the Wall Street Journal Monday.
In recent years, EcoHealth Alliance funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) for the study of bat coronaviruses. As COVID-19 spread across the world in February 2020, Daszak reportedly organized a statement signed by 27 leading scientists that appeared in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.
The statement condemned what it called “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” and proclaimed “solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China.”
Two months after the statement was published, Daszak emailed Fauci to thank him for publicly supporting the theory that coronavirus naturally jumped from animals to humans and did not leak from the WIV.
“As you must know,” Thursday’s letter reads, “a research-related accident is now officially considered a plausible scenario that it would be irresponsible to neglect, and that the [World Health Organization] itself has firmly included in its latest origins initiative.”
More than 18 months after the imposition of widespread restrictions in response to the spread of COVID-19, opinion is split over how the pandemic emerged. An unclassified summary of a US intelligence community report from August says it’s “plausible” the virus leaked from a lab, but added that an answer may never be determined due to the fact that China “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.”
The letter also accused Daszak of lying when he claimed that the Wuhan lab did not keep live bats on the premises, when recently uncovered footage from 2017 shows bats in cages at the facility. The document further alleges that Daszak made “unfounded claims” about why virus samples and sequences held by WIV were taken offline — making them inaccessible to outside researchers.
The most serious accusation in the letter states that Daszak failed to publicly disclose that EcoHealth Alliance had applied in 2018 to receive a grant from the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that would have funded a project creating “creating novel chimeric viruses that are optimized to infect humans and that could unleash unknown and untold havoc.”
Such research is classified under the umbrella term “gain-of-function”. Fauci and Collins have repeatedly denied that federal funds went to support such research at the WIV, but have not ruled out the possibility that gain-of-function experiments were performed behind their backs.
News of the 2018 DARPA grant proposal was first reported last week by The Intercept, which noted that DARPA had rejected the application.
“Whatever Peter Daszak’s motivation may have been, failing to disclose the 2018 DARPA application and its proposal to genetically engineer furin cleavage sites into bat coronaviruses to the WHO, Lancet commission, and general public while repeatedly calling anyone raising questions about a possible pandemic lab incident origin a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is at very least a significant violation of ethics and public trust,” said Jamie Metzl, one of the letter’s signatories and a member of the WHO expert committee on human genome editing.
“Because nearly the entire budget of EcoHealth Alliance comes from United States taxpayers, that organization’s board has a unique moral, and likely legal, responsibility to immediately launch a full investigation into Peter’s behavior,” added Metzl, who has been a leader of efforts calling for a full investigation into the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins.
Dazak has declined to speak to the media or lawmakers about what EcoHealth Alliance did in Wuhan, but has used his Twitter account to insist that the virus spread naturally –and not from a cataclysmic accident.