Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Uncovering COVID-19 Origins: Why Congress Must Breach Biden’s Stonewall

Next month, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic will interview Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. After two days of behind-closed-doors interviews, the subcommittee will schedule a public hearing to take his sworn testimony.

Fauci’s testimony will doubtless cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from masking to vaccine mandates. But rest assured that congressional investigators will zero in on Fauci’s knowledge of, and response to, crucial information concerning the origins of the pandemic in China.

To secure a fully transparent accounting, House and Senate investigators are also pressing the administration to release key details about what Fauci and his colleagues knew about the origin of the pandemic, and when they knew it. But Biden administration officials continue to stall the release of relevant information, offering transparently lame excuses, to block congressional access and public disclosure of unredacted documents.

Team Biden’s persistent lack of transparency on COVID-19 has been nothing short of scandalous. Here is the latest proof:

Exhibit A: Blocking Document Disclosure. In October 2017, well before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ping Chen, an NIAID official, visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology and prepared a trip report for top NIAID officials.

Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., learned of the trip four years later and, in August 2021, wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and acting National Institutes of Health Director Lawrence Tabak asking them to release unredacted records of Chen’s visit to Wuhan. In response, the Department of Health and Human Services instead provided a heavily redacted copy of Chen’s report, plus redacted emails.

In a subsequent briefing for Senate staff, Dr. Melanie Egorin, HHS assistant secretary for legislation, said the redactions were for “security” reasons. But that excuse was clearly incorrect because, as the senators noted, HHS had already conceded that national security was not at issue and the documents themselves were unclassified.

As Johnson remarked, “Given HHS’s extensive redactions of unclassified documents, I can only assume that the true nature of HHS’s ‘security’ interest is to protect itself from additional embarrassment over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Johnson has since renewed his request to interview Chen and asked for a complete and unredacted copy of her report and related documents. Thus far, no response.

Exhibit B: Flaunting Federal Records Rules. On June 11, 2021, Johnson, Paul, and three other Senate colleagues sent Becerra a letter requesting documents relating to NIH officials’ response to the pandemic’s origins.

The senators had learned that Dr. David Morens, senior scientific adviser to Fauci, had emailed Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, on Jan. 9, 2020, asking Daszak for any “inside info” on the novel coronavirus. Daszak replied that NIAID had been funding coronavirus research for “the past five years” and taxpayer monies had been funneled to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

For several years, Daszak’s controversial firm had indeed gotten substantial NIAID funding; and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which had been a center of China’s coronavirus research, had been a subcontractor of the EcoHealth Alliance.

According to Johnson’s account, upon receipt of the June 2021 letter, Morens told Daszak and a small group of his colleagues that he had retained “very few” documents on these “matters.” Morens cautioned the group to correspond with him outside of official channels at his Gmail address, adding, “I have tried to make sure I have retained no documents that might lead other members of ASTMH to be approached for similar document production.” (ASTMH stands for the “American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene,” Morens’ little group).

Among those receiving this Gmail warning were three prominent virologists, Dr. Kristian Andersen, Dr. Robert Garry and Dr. Edward Holmes, who had published a prominent 2020 article in Nature Medicine arguing that a COVID-19 lab origin was “improbable.” That article was a sharp and rapid reversal of their original assessment of an “unnatural” origin of the coronavirus.

When Johnson learned in August 2023 that Morens was apparently using his personal Gmail in communications concerning COVID-19 origins, he wrote Christi Grimm, HHS inspector general, asking her to investigate the apparent attempt to use to evade requests for public information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Johnson also told Grimm that an unnamed whistleblower claimed that NIH officials may have destroyed sensitive federal records related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a serious criminal offense with severe penalties.

For their part, NIH officials claimed they conducted an internal investigation of that allegation, and determined to their own satisfaction that the charge was without merit. Satisfied that there was nothing more to it, the National Archives and Records Administration, the agency charged with the preservation of official records, also dropped its inquiry into the matter.

Remarkably, Grimm rejected Johnson’s request for a Senate staff briefing on the controversy, claiming that it is standard practice to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of ongoing investigations.

Johnson nonetheless renewed his request that Grimm investigate Morens’ use of Gmail to conduct agency business, the alleged NIH destruction of official agency records, and any effort by Morens or and others to evade the Freedom of Information Act. But she denied the request once again.

In a Nov. 15, 2023, letter to Becerra, recounting the foregoing facts, Johnson tried again:

I request you immediately provide complete responses to my June 2021 and March 2023 letters on the origins of Covid-19—including responsive records contained in Dr. Morens’ Gmail account—produce all text messages or communications contained in Dr. Morens’ HHS-issued cell phones(s) dated from June 1, 2019 – present, and provide a detailed explanation for how HHS will hold Dr. Morens accountable for his apparent mishandling of federal records and potential violations of federal record keeping laws. I also request that HHS make Dr. Morens available for an interview with my Subcommittee staff. Please provide this information and interview by no later than December 6, 2023.

Thus far, no response.

Closing In. Johnson and his colleagues do not have subpoena power. As he told this writer, “I am attempting to convince Chairman Blumenthal to issue subpoenas to the non-responsive agencies. If that proves unsuccessful, you can rest assured that, if I become Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, subpoenas will be issued and enforced.”

House Republicans do, however, have subpoena power. When Fauci testifies early next year before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, congressional investigators should probe his recollections concerning Chen’s report and Morens’ intriguing communications.

During his November 2022 deposition in the federal case of Missouri vs Biden, Fauci said he could not recall 174 times in response to questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. House investigators will thus have an excellent opportunity to refresh his memory on what he learned about the origins of the deadly disease, when he learned it, and how he responded.


The Omicron Family Gets Bigger: Characteristics of New Dominant Subvariant HV.1

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second half of the November 2023 data demonstrates that the HV.1 subvariant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus comprises 31.7% of all cases in the U.S. This makes it the new dominant subvariant circulating since mid-August. TrialSite previously discussed characteristics of the Eris (EG.5) subvariant which was dominant during the 2023 summer period. The Omicron family in general is highly transmissible, and HV.1 is no exception which makes it a concern for public health. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics of HV.1.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, virologists have been on the lookout for new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that might cause concern because of their transmissibility and severity. In this lookout, Omicron was one of the difficult opponents since it spreads so fast. Luckily, the symptoms of Omicron variants tended to be mild including runny nose, sore throat and other cold-like symptoms.

Omicron emerged in November 2021 and took over the Delta variant which was previously dominant. The initial version of the Omicron variant is called BA.1. This was followed by other subvariants – BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and XBB. All of these mutations make it more difficult for our immune systems to recognize and fight the virus. However, this does not mean that these mutations will always cause a more severe disease.

Characteristics of HV.1

HV.1 is a lineage of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. It evolved from EG.5 (and previously XBB.1.5) and its characteristics are very similar to other Omicron strains. This means that it spreads fast but does not cause severe illness.

Infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, William Schaffner, M.D. stated that while HV.1 may be more transmissible, it does not appear to cause more severe disease or hospitalizations. “I don’t think people should be very concerned about this,” he said. On the other hand, Schaffner also warns about the possible increase of cases in winter, as was the case for the past three years.

The symptoms of the HV.1 are not different from classical COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, fatigue and sore throat. No new or alarming symptoms have been observed with the emergence of HV.1. The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on an individual's immunity and vaccination status. Additionally, while these symptoms are mostly mild, they can be dangerous for immunocompromised individuals.

Unlike its family members, HV.1 still does not have a catchy nickname, so all the sources still use the scientific Pango name. Healthcare professionals continue to investigate this new variant, and fortunately, most diagnostic tests currently in use can still reliably diagnose the various strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Will vaccines work for these new variants?

Mutations that cause HV.1 allow it to infect people with previous immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus more easily. Therefore, it is an important concern if the vaccines and other preventive and therapeutic measures can keep up with these new subvariants.

Moderna announced in August 2023 that its updated COVID-19 vaccine will target the expected circulating variants of COVID-19. The president of Moderna, Stephen Hoge, M.D., specifically claimed that the new results from the clinical trial data of the updated COVID-19 vaccine illustrated a robust immune response against the XBB strains including the EG.5 subvariant.

Pfizer also created a version of its shots to target the XBB strain, and Reuters mentioned that it showed effectiveness against EG.5 in a mice study.

Although they did not specifically state HV.1, since it is from the same family as XBB, one can assume that updated vaccines are expected to be effective against this new dominant subvariant.

Matthew J. Binnicker, Ph.D., who studies viral infections and is a Director of Clinical Virology at Mayo Clinic, emphasized that along with the updated vaccines, antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid can still work for the HV.1.

A new omicron sub-variant to look out for JN.1 has some concerning attributes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this variant is the second most predominant one in the United States.

What to expect from future variants

According to a Euronews Next article, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and COVID-19 Technical Lead at the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasized that people have moved on from COVID-19 but the virus is still circulating. She stated that it continues to cause deaths and we need to keep up with it.

To understand and anticipate the future variants of SARS-CoV-2, researchers used molecular dynamics simulations. Investigating the molecular dynamics of mutations helps scientists understand how the virus creates advantages for itself to evolve.

A Think Global Health article envisioned that it is almost impossible to predict the behavior of a new variant before it comes up. But the worst-case scenario is the possibility of a “deltacron” variant which is a combination of the Delta variant’s severity and the Omicron variant’s transmissibility. This might be the scenario in which a greater death rate occurs but luckily, it seems unlikely to evolve. For now, the dominant variant HV.1 does not seem harmful in terms of creating a deadly disease but is still contagious enough to not be ignored.

TrialSite will continue to investigate newly appeared variants and their characteristics.




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