Amidst the intensifying demand of world leaders, the scientific community, and people around the world to initiate a second and deeper COVID origin probe, Dr. Peter Daszak, chief of the EcoHealth alliance which collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the study of Bat Coronaviruses, has recused himself from the Lancet’s COVID commission, shortly after the renowned peer-reviewed medical journal Lancet published an addendum to a very important letter Daszak had co-written in Feb 2020 where he had condemned the COVID lab-leak theory.
Peter Daszak has stepped down after the Lancet asked all the 27 authors of a previous letter it had published, of which Daszak was a part, to declare competing interests. He has now done so, and subsequently parted ways with the Lancet commission, both of which are massive developments. Here’s what happened:
February 2020: Peter Daszak spearheads much-cited Lancet letter that condemns COVID lab-leak theory
The February 19, 2020, Lancet letter which Daszak had purportedly spearheaded had denounced lab-leak theory of SARS-CoV-2, stating that there were ‘conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin’ and that it (the scientists who wrote the letter) stood in ‘solidarity with all scientists and health professionals in China.’ The letter, which came before COVID fully unfurled its global pandemic nature, was among the first and most significant proponents of the Zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2, for which even now there is almost no evidence. At that time, due to a lack of media cross-examination regarding the same (as also, Daszak’s seeming ability to skirt conflicts-of-interest in a range of appointments) his own involvement with the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s research wasn’t sufficiently questioned.
June 21, 2021: The Lancet asks all co-authors of the Feb 2020 letter to declare competing interests
On June 21, the Lancet published an addendum in which it reported asking all 27 authors of the February 2020 letter to disclose their competing interests, stating, unbelievably, that none had been declared initially. After claiming that conflicts-of-interests are subject to ‘differences in opinion’, the Lancet comes to the point – “Some readers have questioned the validity of this disclosure, particularly as it relates to one of the authors, Peter Daszak.” It proceeds to publish the competing interest that Daszak declared.
Peter Daszak declares his ‘competing interests’; skirts naming Wuhan Institute of Virology
In his statement, Peter Daszak states the following:
- Daszak only paid by EcoHealth: Peter Daszak’s remuneration is paid solely by EcoHealth Alliance which is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to develop science-based solutions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.
- On funding from the US: EcoHealth’s work in China was previously funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Neither PD nor EcoHealth Alliance have received funding from the People’s Republic of China.
- He’s still a member of the WHO’s COVID origin probe: Peter Daszak joined the WHO–China joint global study on the animal origins of SARS-CoV-2 towards the end of 2020 and is currently a member. As per WHO rules, this work is undertaken as an independent expert in a private capacity, not as an EcoHealth Alliance staff member.
- What EcoHealth did in China (no mention of Wuhan Institute of Virology, hint of gain of function research): EcoHealth Alliance’s work in China involves assessing the risk of viral spillover across the wildlife–livestock–human interface, and includes behavioural and serological surveys of people, and ecological and virological analyses of animals. This work includes the identification of viral sequences in bat samples, and has resulted in the isolation of three bat SARS-related coronaviruses that are now used as reagents to test therapeutics and vaccines. It also includes the production of a small number of recombinant bat coronaviruses to analyse cell entry and other characteristics of bat coronaviruses for which only the genetic sequences are available.
June 22, 2021: Peter Daszak recuses himself from the Lancet’s COVID-19 commission
Just a day after the addendum declaring Peter Daszak’s competing interests was published in The Lancet, Daszak parted ways with the journal’s COVID Commission, which says it will be publishing a ‘final report’ after carefully scrutinising the SARS-CoV-2’s origin. It says:
“The Commission’s technical work will be conducted by independent experts who were not themselves directly involved in US-China research activities that are under scrutiny. Dr. Peter Daszak has recused himself from the Commission’s work on the origins of the virus.”