The Lancet, the independent international general medicine journal, dropped a bombshell this week. It published a major COVID-19 Commission report, which put forth wild hypotheses but did little else.
While not providing clarity or concrete answers to disturbing and valid questions regarding the virus's origin or how it was transmitted to humans, the recent report further muddy the waters.
Its latest report claims that it is "feasible" that the SARS-CoV-2 infected humans either in a natural spillover event or it could have been created and leaked from a lab.
While that is nothing new, The Lancet's suggestion that American researchers could be culpable has caused a furor. The paper puts forth such a serious allegation (being termed preposterous in scientific circles) because "independent researchers have not yet investigated" U.S. labs. The National Institutes of Health's alleged resistance to "disclosing details" of its work is also cited as a point that supports the claim.
The outcry at the position adopted by The Lancet was swift and robust. Prof Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Canada, pointed out that the latest report "flagrantly" ignored critical evidence on Covid-19 origins.
It is not the first time the publication has pushed this angle on the SARS-CoV-2 origins. Much to Beijing's delight, the commission's chairman had stated that he was "pretty convinced" that Sars-Cov-2 "came out of a US lab of biotechnology, not out of nature" in Madrid, Spain, earlier this year.
The Covid-19 paper is the latest installment in The Lancet's misinformation campaign that started during the pandemic's peak. Early last year, the publication put out a letter condemning "conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin," signed by 27 public-health scientists. It later came to light that 26 of the 27 had connections to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the supposed epicenter of the pandemic outbreak.
Its record is far from pristine for all the prestige the publication had accrued. Some blame for the strong anti-vaccination sentiment can be laid at this publication's door. The article by British (former) physician Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine with autism appeared in The Lancet in 1998. Though later the study proved to be a fraud, and the paper was retracted more than a decade later, the damage was done.
Similarly, the distraction and furor caused by the recent paper will only bolster China's efforts to deflect blame. Beijing has been hindering efforts for an independent probe since the pandemic's beginning. While the report does list "the lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of COVID-19" and "costly delays in acknowledging the crucial airborne exposure pathway of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and in implementing appropriate measures at national and global levels to slow the spread of the virus" as failures of the governments, it hardly holds China accountable.
Despite the WHO chief Dr. Tedros's statement that all hypotheses remained on the table, including that of a laboratory leak, and the international community's calls for independent and thorough investigations, reports like The Lancet's only serve to devolve the probe into a blame game.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) data, as of May 31, 2022, there were 6.9 million reported deaths and 17.2 million estimated deaths from COVID-19. Though the commission's authors wrote, "While we need more evidence, the world will remain mired in dispute without full engagement of China, including open access to primary data, documents, and relevant stored material to enable a thorough, transparent, and objective search for all relevant evidence," the fact is, their report has significantly further hindered the process.
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