The World Health Organization’s new chief scientist made a crucial change to an influential 2020 paper that claimed it was “improbable” that COVID-19 came from a laboratory, a newly disclosed email shows.
Jeremy Farrar, the chief scientist, was credited in one message with helping guide the paper about the origin of COVID-19, according to an email released by the U.S. House select subcommittee on the coronavirus pandemic on March 5.
“Thanks for shepherding this paper. Rumors of bioweaponeering are now circulating in China,” Dr. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University professor, wrote to Farrar in the message.
“Yes I know and in US – why so keen to get out ASAP. I will push nature,” Farrar responded.
In the early 2020 paper, Lipkin and four co-authors claimed that “it is improbable that SARS-CoV-2 emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”
SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.
A draft of the manuscript, published by Nature, included a different word, the House panel found.
“Sorry to micro-manage/microedit! But would you be willing to change one sentence?” Farrar wrote to Kristian Andersen, who co-authored the paper, in an email just one day before publication.
Farrar asked to insert “improbable” in place of “unlikely,” the email showed.
“Sure,” Andersen responded.
The paper also stated that “SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct” and that the authors “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
“This evidence suggests that Dr. Farrar was more involved in the drafting and publication of Proximal Origin than previously known and possibly should have been credited or acknowledged for this involvement,” the panel said.
Asked for a comment from Farrar, the World Health Organization (WHO) told The Epoch Times via email he hasn’t yet started in his new position.
The British scientist was, at the time of the messages, at the helm of the Wellcome Trust, which controls millions of dollars in funding for research in the UK.
The WHO announced on Dec. 13, 2022, that Farrar would be the next new chief scientist and that he would start in the second quarter of 2023. Wellcome, which didn’t respond to a request for comment, has stated that Farrar was due to leave in 2023.
Farrar helped arrange a secret Feb. 1, 2020, teleconference with Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to discuss the origin of COVID-19, previously released emails show.
Some of the participants said details of SARS-CoV-2 indicated it didn’t originate from nature, though others favored the natural origin theory.
Anderson was among the former, writing that “some of the features (potentially) look engineered.”
The call came after a report outlining the possibility that the virus escaped or was released from a high-level laboratory in Wuhan, China, where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in 2019.
Scientists on the call later penned the Proximal Origins paper and a letter published in The Lancet that reads, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
Farrar was listed as a co-author of the letter but wasn’t listed as a co-author or contributor to the paper. Neither was Fauci. That’s despite Andersen stating, in another newly released email, that the paper was “prompted” by Farrar, Fauci, and others, including Lipkin and then-U.S. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. Previous evidence also showed Fauci and Collins receiving a draft of the paper and questioning a key passage, with their recommendations making it into the published paper.
Fauci said shortly after the papers were published, from the White House podium in Washington, that “highly qualified evolutionary virologists” had looked at the virus and concluded the evidence “is totally consistent with a jump of a species from an animal to a human.” He also said he couldn’t recall the names of any of the authors but that the paper could be made available to reporters.
Fauci’s agency sent money to the Wuhan lab through an intermediary. Some experiments funded with the money increased the virulence of a modified bat virus.
Some of the scientists have since softened their stance against the lab leak theory, as more time passes without any identification of a host animal to support the natural origin theory.
Farrar told The Epoch Times in 2021 that “the best scientific evidence available to date” backed a natural origin, but admitted there are “other possibilities which cannot be completely ruled out and retaining an open mind is critical.”
Dr. Peter Palese, a U.S. microbiologist who signed the Lancet letter, said he supported an investigation into the origin of the virus.
The new House subcommittee has vowed to probe the matter, after it was largely ignored under Democrats in the previous Congress.
Like the scientific community, intelligence entities in the United States remain divided over the matter, but several say evidence is supportive of the lab leak theory.
That includes the FBI.
“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origin of the pandemic are [sic] most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, said in a recent interview.
The Energy Department has also reportedly shifted to say it’s more likely the origin was the lab.
On March 3, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for countries with information about the origin to share it with WHO and the international scientific community.
“WHO continues to call for China to be transparent in sharing data and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results,” he said. “Until then, all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table.”