Peter Palese, who runs a lab named in his honor at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, was among 27 scientists who signed an influential statement in February 2020 blasting suggestions that COVID-19 may have leaked from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology.
“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” the lab-leak deniers said in their statement, which was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal.
That view became the official COVID-19 doctrine for mainstream media outlets and social media platforms, which censored dissenting speech. But with reports surfacing in recent weeks regarding Wuhan lab staffers taking ill with Covid-like symptoms in the fall of 2019, even the likes of the Washington Post, which previously mocked lab-leak speculation, have said that it was not a “debunked conspiracy”, but one of the options.
“I believe a thorough investigation about the origin of the COVID-19 virus is needed,” Palese, 77, told the UK Daily Mail on Friday. “A lot of disturbing information has surfaced since the Lancet letter I signed, so I want to see answers covering all questions.”
Many such questions were declared forbidden in The Lancet statement, which said scientists who analyzed genomes of the virus “overwhelmingly conclude” that COVID-19 had to have originated in wildlife. Palese and the other signatories went on to praise China for its “rapid, open and transparent sharing of data” and called for others to “stand with our colleagues on the frontline” in Wuhan. They added, “Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumors and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against the virus.”
UK medical researcher Jeremy Farrar, who also signed the letter, is sounding a different tone as well. He told the Daily Mail that he still favors the theory that the virus originated in a wild animal, but “there are other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out, and retaining an open mind is critical.”
Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which sent $600,000 in US taxpayer money to help fund research at the Wuhan lab, orchestrated the statement in The Lancet.
He also was part of a World Health Organization team that investigated the origins of Wuhan. The probe consisted of a three-hour visit to the Wuhan lab.
Daszak faced some criticism that he had a conflict of interest as both a financial backer and an investigator of the lab. Ironically, he is also part of a “task force” formed last November by The Lancet to investigate how the pandemic began.
The controversial scientist also has ties to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser and the leading US government authority on COVID-19.
Fauci emails obtained by media outlets under Freedom of Information Act requests and released this week revealed an April 2020 note in which Daszak thanked Fauci for helping to dismiss the lab-leak theory.
“I just wanted to say a personal thank you on behalf of our staff and collaborators for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Daszak wrote. He called Fauci’s comments “brave” and praised him as a “trusted voice” who would help “dispel the myths being spun around the virus’s origins.”
Fauci replied, “Many thanks for your kind note.”