Rep. Bill Posey Calls on Congress to Create Bipartisan Commission to Examine COVID-19

By  //  February 28, 2021

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POSEY: commission will enable an efficient response to future public health threats

Bill Posey represents Florida’s 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – More than a year after it emerged and spread around the globe, the coronavirus’s origins remain shrouded in mystery.

Treatments have not been fully established, the economic costs are massive, and even the clinical presentation of the disease is highly variable and not well defined. On top of this, China has continued to obscure full inquiries into the beginnings of the pandemic. Real answers are necessary to secure public health for the future.

To find these answers and to holistically address the numerous problems that the pandemic has revealed, Congress should establish a bipartisan commission to obtain a full account of the events of the pandemic and provide guidance for future actions. We must resolve to know with the greatest degree of certainty the origins of the virus, what steps could have been taken to slow its spread, lessons learned from lockdowns, developing effective therapies and vaccines, pandemic preparedness, and importantly, how we can best prevent such pandemics in the future.

Any inquiry short of a fully transparent and complete account of how the pandemic arose is certain to lead to responses built on a shaky foundation. I introduced H.R. 834, the PREPARE Act, to insulate this investigation from partisan finger-pointing or those with inherent biases.

Questions about the origins of the pandemic are particularly concerning. Pandemics require a complex series of biological and social events to move from one infection to a cluster to a global health threat. Preventing future pandemics demands that we understand each of these steps. Instead of creating a unified effort to uncover these important facts, 15 months after COVID-19 first emerged as a public health emergency, we are still learning about its origins through various means. Only last month did Chinese officials allow investigators to visit China as a part of their inquiry, albeit with cumbersome restrictions.

The Washington Examiner has previously reported on the World Health Organization inquiry into the origins of the virus and many questions about its conclusions, even from within the Biden White House. The WHO is focusing primarily on the zoonotic origins of how the coronavirus may have moved from infecting animals to infecting humans. This is important research because animals, particularly bats, harbor many of the world’s most dangerous pathogens.

But animals are not the only point of origin of concern. The Wuhan Institute of Virology also must be considered as a possible point of origin, or pass-through, of the virus. Numerous laboratories in the United States and throughout the world conduct research on high-risk pathogens, and many of them have imperfect safety and security records. The State Department had similar concerns about the Wuhan Institute, which was conducting gain-of-function research.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health funded the Wuhan Institute’s gain-of-function research through grants to EcoHealth Alliance, led by Dr. Peter Daszak. Daszak is listed as a funder and co-author of a research paper from that same institute, which documents the creation of three highly contagious novel chimeric coronaviruses. Ironically, the Lancet chose Daszak to lead its investigation into the origins of COVID-19, including its possible origins at Wuhan — a theory Daszak has repeatedly called a “conspiracy theory.” WHO also included Daszak as a key member of its investigation team.

Unsurprisingly, the WHO investigation team concluded on Feb. 8, after a brief visit to the Wuhan Institute, that it was unlikely the virus leaked from a lab, and this possibility needed no further investigation.

The WHO publicly defended China’s transparency and handling of the virus, despite efforts by the Chinese government to suppress the truth by shutting down early warnings about the virus, hiding reports of transmission, underreporting the death toll, and removing access to key databases. Emails recently made public indicate China’s primary concern in January 2020 was to secure praise from WHO and NIH officials about its transparency.

Any effort to secure global public health must be based on facts derived from a fully transparent and thorough process. Neither the Lancet nor WHO investigations will generate such findings. Perhaps there is important information that a bipartisan commission can learn from these inquiries, but their findings will not be definitive.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic did not start in a lab, SARS is known to have escaped labs and led to infections, once in Taiwan and in Singapore and twice in Beijing. Thankfully, these infections did not cause large outbreaks, but the risk is very real.

The origins of the virus and the risks of gain-of-function research are just two components of the COVID-19 commission’s work. To prevent future pandemics, we must have clear and transparent answers to all these questions. By understanding each aspect of this pandemic from pre-emergence to today’s deaths, we can develop more effective preventatives. But we must also prepare to fight a pandemic when it escapes our preventative measures. A careful analysis by a bipartisan Congressional commission will enable an efficient response to future public health threats.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This op-ed by Rep. Bill Posey first appeared on the Washington Examiner.