Robert Redfield, formerly a top health official in the Trump administration, said he received death threats, including from other scientists, for positing that COVID-19 may have originated in a Chinese lab.
Redfield led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under former President Donald Trump and was one of the most prominent U.S. officials, including the then-president, hypothesizing that COVID-19 may have been bioengineered in the Wuhan Institute of Virology before leaking out into the world. The hypothesis he floated in March 2021 was met with fierce resistance from politicians, the media, and other health experts.
Many opposed to the lab leak idea claimed that such a hypothesis was racist, as was referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” because of its origin in China. In recent weeks, network media and other outlets outside of conservative and right-wing news have begun to look at the lab leak hypothesis as a realistic possibility, though much of the evidence supporting the theory was public last year and the investigation into the origin of COVID-19 has never been conclusively settled.
In the early days of the pandemic, however, as China misdirected and withheld valuable information about the illness that would infect millions all over the world, many prominent voices discounted the lab leak hypothesis and characterized those such as Redfield, who pushed it, as having racist intent. Opposition to the theory grew so intense that Redfield allegedly received death threats from his peers in the science community, he said.
According to Vanity Fair:
But for most of the past year, the lab-leak scenario was treated not simply as unlikely or even inaccurate but as morally out-of-bounds. In late March, former Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield received death threats from fellow scientists after telling CNN that he believed COVID-19 had originated in a lab. “I was threatened and ostracized because I proposed another hypothesis,” Redfield told Vanity Fair. “I expected it from politicians. I didn’t expect it from science.”
Vanity Fair continued:
In a CNN interview on March 26, Dr. Redfield, the former CDC director under Trump, made a candid admission: “I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.” Redfield added that he believed the release was an accident, not an intentional act. In his view, nothing that happened since his first calls with Dr. Gao changed a simple fact: The WIV needed to be ruled out as a source, and it hadn’t been.
After the interview aired, death threats flooded his inbox. The vitriol came not just from strangers who thought he was being racially insensitive but also from prominent scientists, some of whom used to be his friends. One said he should just “wither and die.”
A previous version of this article stated in error that Redfield made his remarks in March 2020. He made them in March 2021.
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