Why the Wuhan lab-leak theory shouldn't be dismissed
Below is an excerpt from an excellent article published in USA Today. It's worth reading the full article at the link given.
Alison Young, Opinion Contributor
USA Today, Mar 22, 2021
[excerpt only reproduced below]
* I have reported on safety lapses at elite U.S. labs. There is no reason to believe they aren’t happening at labs in other countries as well.
Clink. Clink. Clink.
On a warm summer evening in July 2014, a laboratory worker on the National Institutes of Health’s sprawling campus just north of Washington, D.C., exited Building 29A toting a cardboard box. Its contents rattled inside – an assortment of fragile glass vials labeled with faded typewriter script: Q fever, rickettsia, and worst of all, four strains of variola – the dreaded virus that causes smallpox.
Highly contagious, variola is one of the deadliest viruses the world has ever known. It could rip through most of the U.S. population and cause a global health disaster if released. It killed as many as three out of every 10 people infected before it was declared eradicated from the planet in 1980.
Nobody has been routinely vaccinated against smallpox in decades, leaving most people in the U.S. and around the world vulnerable to infection. Yet after forgotten specimen vials dating to the 1940s and 1950s were discovered at the NIH in an unlocked cold storage room, nothing was done to ensure their safe transportation. They were allowed to bump around in a cardboard box with dozens of other old biological specimens as a lone laboratory worker walked them to another building about two blocks away, federal records show.
One vial had already shattered.
The world got lucky that day, as it often has when safety breaches occur at biological laboratories in the United States and around the world.
A deadly epidemic wasn't unleashed. It was only a tissue specimen that broke and nobody got sick.
“Had any of the six glass vials containing the Variola virus been breached, there would have been nothing to contain the agent and prevent its release to the surrounding environment,” according to a joint investigation report by the FBI and federal lab regulators.
As members of a World Health Organization expert team have made international headlines recently dismissing as “extremely unlikely” the possibility that a laboratory accident in Wuhan, China could have sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t stop thinking of the hundreds of lab accidents that are secretly occurring just in the United States.
As an investigative reporter, I have spent more than a decade revealing shocking safety breaches that officials at laboratories in our own country don’t want the public to know about.
I have uncovered exotic and deadly bacteria that have hitched rides out of high-security labs on workers’ dirty clothing, silently spreading contagion for weeks. I have revealed how spacesuit-like protective gear and tubes carrying safe oxygen to scientists have torn or broken – repeatedly – and high-tech safety systems have failed dramatically. Vials of viruses and bacteria have gone missing. Researchers bitten by infected lab animals have been allowed to move about in public – rather than being quarantined – while waiting for signs of infection to appear.
These and similar safety lapses are happening with disturbing regularity at elite U.S. labs operated by government agencies, the military, universities and private firms. There is no reason to believe they aren’t happening at labs in other countries as well.
The notion that more than 2.7 million deaths worldwide – so far – could be the result of a lab accident has been met with skepticism and derision by many journalists and scientists who often portray it as a crackpot conspiracy theory fueled by former President Donald Trump’s China-bashing rhetoric. Without question, the lab-leak theory has been politically and racially weaponized in ugly ways. But that rhetoric needs to be separated from legitimate questions about lab safety that are deserving of investigation.
Science, like journalism, is supposed to be about facts and about getting to the truth. But those who dare seek answers to reasonable questions about any lab accidents in Wuhan are accused of peddling conspiracies.
Let me be clear: Labs in Wuhan may not have played any role in the origin of the pandemic. But a year later, no source has been found, and the world deserves a thorough, unbiased investigation of all plausible theories that is conducted without fear or favor.