Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s chief medical correspondent in an interview that he believes the novel coronavirus pandemic originated from a lab in Wuhan, China.
Redfield, who served under former President Donald Trump for four years, told CNN correspondent Sanjay Gupta, “the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory.” The virologist added: “Other people don’t believe that, that’s fine, science will eventually figure it out.”
“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October, in Wuhan,” Redfield added, noting he believes the virus was likely spreading as early as the Fall of 2019.
“That’s my own view. It’s only an opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now,” said Redfield.
“It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in [a] laboratory to infect the laboratory worker,” said Redfield.
Gupta told Redfield that his statements were significant, to which Redfield emphasized that he wasn’t “implying any intentionality” — meaning that he wasn’t suggesting the coronavirus was leaked from a lab on purpose.
Redfield also said that while he was merely offering his opinion, he has spent his “life in virology.” He also told CNN that “normally” when a pathogen jumps to humans, “it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more and more efficient in human-to-human transmission. I just don’t think this makes biological sense.”
The former CDC director’s opinion runs counter to that of most other experts, and CNN, reporting on his remarks, called his opinion “a controversial theory without evidence.” Dr. Peter Ben Embarek, the lead WHO investigator looking into the COVID-19 outbreak’s origins, has called the lab-leak hypothesis “very unlikely,” reports Reuters.
Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah, responded to Redfield’s remarks by saying that “one recent paper suggests there [were] adaptive changes during early transmission in humans.” Another research paper, said Goldstein, suggests that the “SARS-CoV-2 spike isn’t even good at producing infection of human cells — related viruses are much better. This virus is not optimized for humans.”
“Finally, from a ‘biological standpoint’ as he says, there’s no reason to think serial passage in culture produces a virus more transmissible in humans,” added Goldstein.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday afternoon that the Biden administration has not reached a determination as to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The WHO is examining this and will be releasing a report soon. We’ll review that report once it’s available,” said Psaki. “We continue to learn more about the early status of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins, so we can better prepare for future crises.”
Psaki also directed White House reporters to comments made on Friday morning by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky — who said U.S. officials would review the WHO report when it’s released — and White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Obviously there are a number of theories,” Fauci told reporters during a COVID-19 response team briefing on Friday. “The issue that would have someone think it’s possible to have escaped from a lab would mean that it essentially entered the outside human population already well-adapted to humans, suggesting that it was adapted in the lab.”
“However, the alternative explanation, which most public health individuals go by, is that this virus was actually circulating in China, likely in Wuhan, for a month or more, before they were clinically recognized at the end of December of 2019. If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time, up to and at the time it was recognized. So Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility. But again there are other alternatives, others that most people hold,” said Fauci.
Later in the press conference, Fauci remarked of Redfield’s comments: “I think what he likely was expressing is that there certainly are possibilities…of how a virus adapts itself to efficient spread among humans. You know, one of them is in a lab, and one of them, which is the more likely, which most public health officials agree with, is that it likely was below the radar screen, spreading in the community in China, for several weeks if not a month or more, which allowed it when it first got recognize[d] clinically to be pretty well-adapted. But according to the words of Dr. Redfield, he was saying, he was just expressing an opinion and an option of what it could be.”
Walensky added after Fauci’s remarks: “I don’t have any indication for or against either of the hypotheses that Dr. Fauci just outlined.”