Ex-CDC Head: Push to Sideline Lab-Leak Theory Was ‘Antithetical to Science’
Then-CDC Director Robert Redfield testifies on Capitol Hill in September 2020. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – A House panel on Wednesday heard testimony about a deliberate effort in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak to discount the possibility that the coronavirus may have leaked from a lab in Wuhan – an effort that participating experts said flew in the face of scientific inquiry.
“When you have a group of people who decide that there can only be one point of view, that’s problematic,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, who was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when the outbreak began. “It’s antithetical to science, and unfortunately that’s what they did.”
The “they” referred to by Redfield included Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci, who was not present, featured prominently in the hearing of the House Oversight subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic.
Redfield, a virologist, said he argued in the early days that both the “lab leak” and natural infection hypotheses should be vigorously explored.
But from the way the virus appeared to be behaving, and because of previous work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), he said, “I made it very clear in January  to all of them why we had to aggressively pursue” the possibility of a lab leak.
Instead, he was shut out.
Redfield said he was excluded from a key conference call on Feb. 1, 2020 involving Fauci, then-NIH director Francis Collins, and a number of other scientists, something he only became aware of later, when emails between Fauci and others were released under the Freedom of Information Act.
‘I was quite upset as the CDC director that I was excluded from those discussions.”
Asked why he would have been excluded in that way, Redfield replied, “Because I had a different point of view. And I was told that they made a decision that they would keep this confidential until they came up with a single narrative – which I will argue is antithetical to science.”
“Science never selects a single narrative,” he said. “We foster debate, and we’re confident that with debate science will eventually get to the truth. This was an a priori decision that there is one point of view that we are going to put out there, and anyone who doesn’t agree with it is going to be sidelined.”
“And as I say, I was only the CDC director. And I was sidelined.”
‘Gain of function’
Redfield shared his view that “gain of function” research at the WIV – in which scientists deliberately increase the the infectiousness or virulence of an organism as a way to boost pandemic preparedness – likely give rise to the virus causing COVID-19.
“While many believe that ‘gain of function’ research is critical to get ahead of viruses by developing vaccines, in this case I believe it was the exact opposite – unleashing a new virus on the world without any means of stopping it, and resulting in the deaths of millions of people.”
He called for a moratorium on the research, “until we have a broader debate and we come to a consensus as a community about the value of ‘gain of function’ research.”
Also testifying was Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former member of a WHO advisory committee on human genome editing. Metzl led initiatives by scientists from around the world publishing open letters calling for a genuinely independent forensic inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, including the possibility of a lab leak.
He told the hearing that in the face of “ferociously strong headwinds” it took more than a year before those open letters “played a significant role, along with other things, of starting to shift this conversation.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, retired director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on June 30, 2020. (Photo by KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Asked about pushback from the U.S. government, Metzl conceded that that had been a factor.
“There were leaders of the United States government who – Dr. Fauci had said he was open to all possibilities, but then the next sentence was the preponderance of science suggests a natural origin.”
“I’m a fan of Dr. Fauci but I would – I don’t like to scream at the television, but when I heard those words I would say well, ‘No, no, that’s not the case. That’s not what the science, at least as I’m reading it, is saying.’”
‘Accountability from China’
Metzl, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration, said that “while the question of pandemic origins remains open, there can be no doubt that a research-related origin remains a very serious possibility, if not a distinct probability.”
He described it as “inconceivable” that, more than three years after the pandemic began, there was still no comprehensive and unfettered investigation into its origins.
“The primary reason there has been no comprehensive investigation into COVID-19 origins is the reprehensible actions of the Chinese government,” he said.
“Since the early days of the pandemic the Chinese government has destroyed samples, hidden records, imprisoned brave Chinese journalists, gagged Chinese scientists, actively spread misinformation, and done pretty much everything possible to prevent the kind of unfettered, evidence-based investigation that is so urgently required.”
“Every person on Earth must demand accountability from China.”
Metzl called for the establishment of a bipartisan national COVID-19 commission to examine the origins issue as well as national and international failings and shortcomings, and develop recommendations for next steps.
The hearing comes after disclosures that the FBI and the Department of Energy both now hold the view that a lab-leak was the most likely source of the pandemic. Other U.S. intelligence agencies favor the natural origin hypothesis or remain undecided.
The Senate last week passed by unanimous consent a bill requiring Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to “declassify all information relating to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origin of COVID-19.”
The House is due to vote on the legislation on Friday.
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Senators to DNI: China Has Hindered COVID Origin Probe; Americans Expect Better From Our Own Gov’t (Mar. 7, 2023)
FBI Assessment: ‘The Origins of The Pandemic Are Most Likely a Potential Lab Incident in Wuhan’ (Mar. 1, 2023)