March 25, 2021 -- The Biden administration will conduct a deep-dive investigation into the origin and initial transmission of the coronavirus, the White House COVID-19 Response Team said during a news conference Tuesday -- just days after a U.S. intelligence report found that three researchers at a lab in China fell ill in November 2019.

“It’s our position that we need to get to the bottom of this,” White House senior COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said. “We need a completely transparent process with China, we need the [World Health Organization] to assist in that matter. We don’t feel like we have that now, but we need to get to the bottom of this, whatever the answer may be, and that’s a critical priority for us.”

While conspiracy theories claiming the virus was created in a lab have largely been debunked, a recent Wall Street Journal report citing U.S. intelligence documents suggests that several workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology came down with a mysterious illness before the outbreak. The workers reportedly were hospitalized for their illnesses with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Though authorities have spent most of the pandemic’s duration suggesting that the virus was passed from animals -- likely bats -- to humans, that has changed in recent days. Anthony Fauci, MD, Biden’s chief science adviser, was quoted as saying that he is “not convinced” that the virus occurred naturally outside the lab.

Scott Gottlieb, MD, a former head of the FDA, said Monday on CNBC that evidence the virus was leaked from a Wuhan lab is growing.

“People a year ago who said this probably came from nature, it’s really unlikely it came from a lab, maybe a year ago that kind of a statement made a lot of sense, because that was the more likely scenario,” he said on Squawk Box. “But we haven’t found the true source of this virus.”

When asked about the report of infected lab workers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the White House was conducting an "expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic's origins that is free from interference or politicization."

She said that although the World Health Organization had produced phase one results of an investigation, the White House was not privy to that data.

"Now we're hopeful that we can move into a more transparent, independent phase two investigation," Psaki said, again calling for "access to the underlying data and information."

Fauci said during Tuesday’s news conference that, “Many of us feel that it is more likely that this is a natural occurrence,” but “we don’t know 100% the answer to that.”

“And since this is a question that keeps being asked, we feel strongly, all of us, that we should continue with the investigation and go to the next phase of the investigation that the WHO has done,” he said. “Because we don’t know 100% what the origin is, it’s imperative that we look and do an investigation, and that’s how we feel right now.”

Medscape Medical News

Sources

News briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Team, May 25, 2021.

CNBC: “Gottlieb says there’s growing circumstantial evidence that Covid may have originated in a lab.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on Covid-19 Origin.”

The Hill: “Fauci bombshell: 'Not convinced' COVID-19 developed naturally outside Wuhan lab.”

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