The federal government still hasn’t put the Wuhan lab where COVID may have originated on its contracting blacklist, meaning taxpayer research dollars could continue to make their way there, a senator said Tuesday.
That’s despite a Senate assessment that COVID most likely leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and the Chinese lab’s refusal to cooperate with an NIH probe into whether a previous U.S. grant that was subcontracted to Wuhan was used for prohibited gain-of-function research.
The Department of Health and Human Services inspector general recommended that the agency look into putting WIV on its “debarment” list of prohibited contractors, and even NIH — the subsidiary agency of HHS — concurred with that recommendation.
“I also concur and urge the department to immediately and permanently debar WIV from receiving U.S. funding to ensure that not another penny from taxpayers is ever sent to China’s state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology by NIH or any other component or grantee of HHS,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) wrote in a letter sent to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra this week.
It would not be outside the realm of possibility for the government to steer money to Wuhan again. The previous money to Wuhan came as a subgrant of an NIH award to a group called EcoHealth Alliance.
“The NIH-sponsored collaboration with EcoHealth and WIV, ‘Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,’ drew understandable scrutiny following the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, within the vicinity of the lab where the experiments enhancing coronaviruses was occurring,” Ernst wrote.
Yet even after the COVID outbreak, and despite EcoHealth breaking rules including failing to properly report its subcontracts and allegedly not notifying NIH of troubling test results, NIH has given EcoHealth more awards.
On Tuesday, Ernst called the situation “totally batty.”
“The total amount of American money that made its way into China’s Wuhan lab remains murky. But what we do know is that at least two U.S. agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), gave a total of $1.7 million,” she said in a statement.
“China’s Wuhan Institute refuses to turn over lab notes and other files related to the experiments” funded by U.S. taxpayers, she said.
“NIH continues to deny that there is any connection between the coronaviruses that were being experimented with at WIV and the virus that caused the pandemic. But if NIH does not even have this key information, how can the agency even say with any certainty what was really going on in the lab? Short answer: It can’t. Only WIV and maybe EcoHealth can and they aren’t cooperating,” she continued.
A majority of senators voted to approve an amendment offered by Ernst in May 2021 that would use the law to do what HHS has not, and block taxpayer money from going to Wuhan. But the bill that the amendment was attached to never became law. On Tuesday, Ernst introduced a standalone bill to prevent any federal agency from sending money to the Wuhan lab.
“These mad scientists should never be permitted to get their hands on bats or U.S. taxpayer dollars ever again,” she said.
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