WASHINGTON — The shadowy, New York City-based EcoHealth Alliance, which funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money to a Chinese lab linked to the outbreak of COVID-19, recently received more than $650,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study similar viruses in Southeast Asia.
The $653,392 grant, which was awarded Sept. 21, is being administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — whose director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced in August that he was stepping down at the end of this year.
EcoHealth Alliance, led by Peter Daszak, previously received millions in grants to study similar issues — directing some of those funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, from where many believe COVID-19 leaked into the city of 11 million and trigged the worst global pandemic in 100 years.
Previously released emails have documented a close relationship between Daszak and Fauci, who received a “personal thank you” from the EcoHealth chief in April 2020 for backing the theory — pushed by Daszak — that COVID-19 spread naturally from bats to humans.
Emails obtained by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch in June 2021 revealed that EcoHealth received approximately $3.75 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2019 to carry out its study titled, “Understanding the Risk of Bat Coronavirus Emergence,” more than $800,000 of which was redirected to the Wuhan lab.
An April 15, 2020, email from NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak to Fauci and then-NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins described the EcoHealth study as “a large multi-country study with Wuhan being one site.”
In addition to several EcoHealth research sites in China, Tabak’s email referred to sites in “Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar.”
That project raised questions about the origin of the coronavirus’s spread as its proposal acknowledged the risky nature of the work, noting that exposure to the virus “while working in caves with high bat density overhead and the potential for fecal dust to be inhaled.”
In October of last year, Tabak admitted in a letter to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) that the project included so-called “gain-of-function” research — in which viruses were made more transmissible or virulent — despite previous denials by Fauci in front of Congress.
According to a description on NIH’s website, the latest EcoHealth project will take place in Laos, Myannmar and Vietnam and study “the behavioral and environmental risk factors” that cause coronavirus wildlife-to-human transmission, “assess the risk and drivers of community transmission and spread” and “test potential public health interventions to disrupt” the spread.
The new project’s work will also include study at the Wuhan, China, site where the coronavirus is believed to have first been spread from bats to humans.
“Most pandemics are caused by animal-origin viruses that emerge in regions where people have high contact with wildlife and where illnesses or outbreaks may be missed,” the announcement said.
“This project builds on two decades of work that identifies the border region of Southern China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam as a high risk for future emergence of novel coronaviruses and the potential site where SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] first ‘spilled over’ from bats to people,” according to the announcement.
The new project will also rapidly supply viral sequences and isolates for use in vaccine and therapeutic development, including “prototype pathogen” vaccines.
“Our long-term goal is that this work will act as a model to build pandemic preparedness strategies to better predict sites and communities where wildlife-origin viruses are likely to emerge, and to disrupt emergence in [emerging infection disease] hotspots around the world.”