Dr. Anthony Fauci said scientists, dating back to February 2020, acknowledged COVID-19 “could possibly be an engineered virus” with the potential of an accidental leak from a lab but maintains that the most likely origin was through zoonotic transmission.
Fauci discussed a conference call that took place on Feb. 1, 2020, just days after the World Health Organization raised the alert level on COVID-19, calling it a public health emergency of international concern, During an interview with USA Today this week.
“I remember it very well,” Fauci told USA Today. “We decided on the call the situation really needed to be looked into carefully.”
The call included several scientists, including Kristian Andersen, an expert in infectious disease at Scripps Research Translational Institute in California.
In an email to Fauci the day before the call, and reviewed by Fox News, Andersen wrote, “The unusual features of the virus make up a really small part of the genome (<0.1%) so one has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered."
In the email, Andersen added that he and several other experts thought that the genome was “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory,” but noted that “those opinions could still change” following further analyses.
Fauci told USA Today this week that the meeting was “a very productive back-and-forth conversation where some on the call felt it could possibly be an engineered virus.” Fauci said others on the call felt the evidence was “heavily weighted” toward a natural, zoonotic transmission.
“I always had an open mind,” Fauci told USA Today. “Even though I felt then, and still do, the most likely origin was in an animal host.” But days after the teleconference, according to an email obtained by USA Today, Andersen had changed his position, saying the data “conclusively show” that the virus was not engineered.
Andersen, offering feedback on a document scientists were reportedly working to put together for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to send to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said, “I do wonder if we need to be more firm on the question of engineering.”
“The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case,” Andersen said in the document. “Engineering can mean many things and could be done for either basic research or nefarious reasons, but the data conclusively show that neither was done…”
He added: “If one of the main purposes of this document is to counter those fringe theories, I think it’s very important that we do so strongly and in plain language (‘consistent with’ [natural evolution] is a favorite of mine when talking to scientists, but not when talking to the public – especially conspiracy theorists).”
According to USA Today, the document did not discuss the engineering possibility, and instead noted that data from viral samples were needed to determine the origin.
Last month, President Biden released a rare public statement, revealing that the U.S. intelligence community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios” for the origins of COVID-19, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident,” and asked for “additional follow-up.”
The president asked the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days.”
“As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” President Biden added while noting that the effort would include work by “our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts” and directing the IC to “keep Congress fully apprised of its work.”
“The United States will also keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation and to provide access to all relevant data and evidence.”
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have called for Fauci to testify on his emails, which were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, as U.S. officials try to get to the bottom of the origins of the pandemic. Some Republican lawmakers have also called for Fauci to step down from his post as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying he has lost public confidence.
The White House is defending Fauci amid criticism, calling him an “undeniable asset” to the country during the pandemic, with President Biden saying he is “very confident” in Fauci.
Fauci, last week, responded to criticisms, saying that the attacks on him “are attacks on science.”
“All of the things that I have spoken about consistently from the very beginning have been fundamentally based on science,” Fauci said during an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. “Sometimes those things were inconvenient truths for people and there was pushback against me, so if you are trying to, you know, get at me as a public health official and a scientist, you’re really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you’re attacking science.”
Fauci continued: “And anybody that looks at what is going on clearly sees that. You have to be asleep not to see that. That is what is going on. Science and the truth are being attacked.”