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NIH Hid Risky Monkeypox Virus Research

Can there any longer be any doubt?

The behavior of senior officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the powerful federal agency formerly run by Dr. Anthony Fauci, is intolerable.

And the performance of the Department of Health and Human Services in response to legitimate congressional inquiries has been abysmal.

The latest evidence comes to us courtesy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee recently released an interim staff report on its lengthy investigation into the NIAID-approved gain-of-function research into the MPXV, a virus that causes the deadly disease commonly known as monkeypox.

Gain-of-function research is laboratory research deliberately designed to enhance the virulence and the transmissibility of a pathogen. According to the House committee’s report, the National Institutes of Health and NIAID misled lawmakers for more than 17 months before handing over proof that they approved gain-of-function experiments to be performed on the monkeypox virus.

Dangerous Pathogen

America experienced a brief monkeypox scare in 2022 and 2023. While the infection had limited transmissibility and was thus contained, the virus is nonetheless a dangerous pathogen. The West African-based variant of the virus, which circulated in the U.S. was less lethal, however, than the Congo-based variant, which was both more transmissible and deadly.  

In September 2022, Science published an article in which a Dr. Bernard Moss was interviewed about his research on MPXV. In the October 2022 edition of Science, some scientists expressed concern that Moss’ research, if completed, could have created “a more potent version of the mpox outbreak strain,” which “could spark an epidemic that would be substantially more lethal.”

House members acted quickly.

In October 2022, the committee began investigating potential gain-of-function research into monkeypox that may have been conducted by Moss.

According to the September 2022 issue of Science, Moss had been swapping genes between two groups of organisms—“clades”—thought to have a common ancestor: clade 1 MPXV (the Congo variant), which is “lethal to more than 10 percent of the unvaccinated humans,” and the more transmissible but less deadly clade 2 MPXV (the West African variant).

Though Moss swapped genes from clade 2 into clade 1 in hopes of making it less deadly, Moss—according to the Science article—was also “planning to try the opposite, endowing clade 2 virus with genes from its deadlier relative.”

That type of experiment would qualify as gain-of-function research, thus making a deadly pathogen even more deadly to humans.

Hiding Information

It was not until March of this year that congressional investigators confirmed that Moss had, in fact, submitted a proposal to the NIH Institutional Biosafety Committee to conduct a “bidirectional transfer of genes between clades I and II of the MPXV.”

The biosafety committee had, in fact, approved that proposal on June 30, 2015, nearly nine years before investigators started their inquiry. According to the interim report, “HHS and the NIH misled the Committee in official written correspondence about the MPXV gene-transfer experiment on no fewer than five occasions over the course of 17 months.”

This deception, in the language of the report, was not only “unacceptable,” but also “potentially criminal.”

The bureaucrats’ behavior was positively weird.

It’s still not clear whether the NIAID-approved gain-of-function monkeypox experiments were, in fact, ever conducted—and NIAID officials repeatedly denied that they were carried out. Congressional investigators note, however, the NIH repeatedly refused to provide any documentary evidence that would back up their claims.

If there was nothing to hide, why the stubborn noncooperation?

So, it appears that NIH/NIAID officials simply refused lawmakers’ repeated requests for information over a 17-month period for no other reason than to evade legitimate congressional oversight. 

Concerning controversial viral gain-of-function experiments, the congressional staff investigators thus concluded: “NIAID cannot be trusted to oversee its own research of pathogens responsibly … or “be trusted to honestly communicate with Congress and the public … .”  

Chalk up another self-inflicted black eye for public health.  

Cover-Up Specialists

This latest NIH and NIAID scandal comes on the heels of reports of NIH’s poor oversight of controversial grant funding in China and in the wake of damaging revelations that Dr. David Morens, then a senior adviser to Fauci, went to great lengths to evade Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiries relating to the origins of COVID-19, using personal emails to evade the disclosure of communications related to the origins of the pandemic and taxpayer funding for EcoHealth Alliance, the controversial firm that engaged China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology as a subcontractor.

The Wuhan Institute, which had been working closely with the Chinese military, was the epicenter of communist China’s notorious and risky coronavirus research. Finally, HHS disbarred both EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute from securing federal grant funding for at least three years.

Worse, according to Morens’ own February 2021 email, he was assisted in evading FOIA requests by the very person responsible for enforcing the law, Marg Moore, who heads up the NIH FOIA office: “I learned from our foia lady here how to make emails disappear after I am foia’d but before the search starts, so I think we are all safe. Plus, I deleted most of those earlier emails after sending them to Gmail,” he wrote.

After The Nation, a leftist journal, inquired into the status of Morens and Moore, the HHS resorted to standard bureaucratese about its commitment to the rule of law, responding: “HHS doesn’t comment on personnel matters.”    

Next Steps

In its report on the monkeypox experiment, congressional investigators concluded:

NIAID has a culture of secrecy and obfuscation regarding experiments involving pandemic and potential pandemic pathogens. HHS and the NIH are complicit in enabling NIAID’s culture of secrecy and obfuscation.

This is incompatible with accountable, democratic governance and further erodes the public’s trust in government health agencies. 

Congress needs to get tough with NIH and should consider key interim staff recommendations: Remove final approval of sensitive viral gain-of-function research from NIH and NIAID and consider vesting final review and perhaps veto authority over any such project in an independent body, and require any taxpayer-funded institutions that conducts research into “potentially dangerous” pathogens also to be subject to  independent oversight boards and to operate at the highest levels of lab biosafety.

Beyond that, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has launched a broad “framework” for discussion on comprehensive NIH reform. The goal would be to streamline an overly complex organization, improve the research approval process, and facilitate better congressional oversight.

As analysts at The Heritage Foundation have detailed, the federal government’s performance during COVID-19 has damaged its standing with millions of Americans. Federal officials’ continued lack of transparency concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, mixed messaging on masks and counterproductive vaccine mandates, unscientific edicts and pronouncements, along with the repeated and scandalous refusals to respond to legitimate congressional inquiries, have all contributed to a serious loss of public trust.

In an age when global viral contagions can kill millions of people at home and abroad, America cannot afford such a loss of faith in the public health agencies whose job it is to protect them. Popular cynicism could prove deadly.

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