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NIH Admits to ‘No Control’ Over How US Grants Were Used at Wuhan Institute of Virology

Published: June 7, 2021
Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus make a visit to the institute in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Feb. 3, 2021. (Image: Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

During an interview with radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt published June 2 on YouTube, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute for Health (NIH) and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s boss, admitted that the U.S. government had “no control” over how grant funds provided by the NIH were used by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

The U.S. provided upwards of $600,000 in grants to the WIV via Peter Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance, but how those funds were used and whether or not they were used for gain-of-function research remains unclear. Gain-of-function research can be described as aiming to increase a virus’ pathogenesis, transmissibility, or host range.

During the interview, Collins said, “when we give a grant… it has terms attached to it of what it is that the grantee is supposed to be doing with those funds… And we trust the grantee to be honest and not deceptive.”

“The grant funds that went to Wuhan, which were a subcontract from EcoHealth, were very specifically aimed to try to categorize viruses that they could isolate from bats in Chinese caves, we had a good reason to want to know more about, given SARS and MERS that had come out of there,” he continued.

“We had no control over what else they were doing with those funds. That’s another thing we’d like to know more about, and an investigation might potentially tell us.” His statement brings into question claims made by Collins’ subordinate, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said that the NIH did not collaborate with the WIV on gain-of-function research.

According to Collins, Fauci and the NIH had no way of knowing for certain what the grant funds were being used for. Fauci told the U.S. Senate, at a hearing this month, that the U.S. “has not ever, and does not now, fund gain-of-function research in the WIV.”

NIH’s evasive behavior

During the interview, Hewitt stated that a two-page NIH “non-response” to a detailed inquiry made by the office of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, U.S. Representative for Washington’s 5th congressional district, could be construed as “evasive.” He asked, “why would the NIH not go to the effort of being fully responsive because it does give off the appearance of evasion?”

Collins responded, “much of the information they’re asking for, we don’t have the answers to. Some of it is pretty sensitive, not quite classified, but getting close to that. So it just didn’t seem like this was going to be well-served by having a very, very detailed exchange of letters.”

“And again, in our response, we offered to have a chance to simply get into a secure space and have a conversation.” Collins said the inquiry contained “29 questions, 11 pages, [and] 40 footnotes.”

Hewitt pressed further, saying, “When NIH doesn’t respond to congressionally authorized committees that does raise questions of governance, we are a nation of laws and NIH, pretty sure, is the Federal government and the Congress oversees NIH.”

He continued, “I don’t want to be rude but I really think you ought to go down paragraph by paragraph and answer each question even if it is we have to discuss this in a SCIF [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility].” SCIFs are specialized rooms that guard against electronic surveillance and suppress leakage of sensitive security and military data.

According to a press statement issued in January 2021 by then Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “the United States has repeatedly called for a transparent and thorough investigation into the origin of COVID-19. Understanding the origin of this pandemic is essential for global public health, economic recovery, and international security.” However, calls for a thorough investigation into the origins of COVID-19 have largely gone unanswered.