Biden administration suspends funding for scientist at center of COVID lab leak theory

May 22, 2024

The Biden administration said it has suspended from all federal funding programs the scientist at the heart of the lab leak theory of the origins of the coronavirus, and proposed blocking him from receiving federal funding in the future. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent a letter to Peter Daszak on Tuesday, less than a week after the agency took similar action against Daszak’s organization, EcoHealth Alliance (EHA).  

In the letter, HHS said it was holding Daszak responsible for EcoHealth Alliance’s failure to adequately monitor the activities of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, (WIV) and then subsequently failing to report on the lab’s high-risk virus studies. 

“The alleged conduct of EHA is imputed to you, because during all or part of the time relevant, you participated in, knew of, or had reason to know of EHA’s improper conduct, through your role as the President of EHA” as well as project director and principal investigator, HHS wrote.

While bans generally last for about three years, “I may impose debarment for a longer period or shorter period as the circumstances warrant,” the agency said in the letter.

HHS cited information from 31 federal documents dating back to the National Institutes of Health’s initial 2014 grant to EcoHealth, leading up to the May 15 notice suspending and proposing debarment of Daszak’s organization. 

EcoHealth and Daszak have come under fire from Republicans and Democrats over the group’s work with the Wuhan lab, particularly controversial “gain of function” research to enhance the ability of the virus to cause disease or make it more transmissible.  

Earlier this month, House lawmakers questioned Daszak about EcoHealth’s record on biosafety and its relationship with the Wuhan lab, though Republicans did not produce any evidence linking the COVID-19 pandemic to EcoHealth’s research.  

“EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak’s personal debarment will ensure he never again receives a single cent from U.S. taxpayers nor has the opportunity to start a new, untrustworthy organization,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, on Wednesday.  

“The Select Subcommittee intends to hold Dr. Daszak accountable for any dishonesty and reminds him that this debarment decision does not preclude him from producing all outstanding documents and answering all the questions from this Congressional body,” Wenstrup added.  

Daszak has denied the organization ever funded or conducted gain of function research. But in the letter dated May 21, HHS said Daszak and EcoHealth failed to report to the National Institutes of Health that the WIV had produced a virus that was stronger than permissible thresholds, which was a violation of the terms of the grant.  

HHS previously barred WIV from receiving federal grants, and in the letter to Daszak said it’s “undisputed” that the research conducted at the WIV “likely violated protocols of the NIH regarding biosafety.” 

According to the letter, Daszak was “ultimately responsible for ensuring both EHA’s and WIV’s compliance,” but he did not.

The National Institutes of Health said it is still waiting for materials it requested from EcoHealth Alliance in 2021 and 2022, and noted EcoHealth did not submit its 2019 annual report to federal officials for nearly two years; 

“Given the issues regarding the management of EHA’s grant awards and subawards, and the nature of the virology research being conducted by EHA … I have determined that the immediate suspension of Dr. Daszak is necessary to protect the public interest,” a memo from a redacted HHS Suspension and Debarment Official and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions said.