Transmitted: July 14, 2021
To: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Re: Information regarding requests by Chinese researchers to remove COVID19 sequences from the Sequence Read Archive
Full Request (PDF): NIH COVID Database FOIA
Empower Oversight has submitted a detailed FOIA request to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for records concerning a reported request to remove SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) sequences from a federal database. As reported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the removal of these virus sequences has added fuel to the COVID19 origin debate.
The State Department has noted that China has not been transparent in its handling of the COVID19 origin question and has removed virus sequences from its own online databases that could help uncover how the pandemic began. Chinese researchers submitted—and later requested to withdraw—virus sequences to the Sequence Read Archive in March 2020. The submitting investigator requested withdrawal in June 2020. Sequences of COVID19 virus are critical to understanding how this pandemic started, in order to prevent future outbreaks. Johns Hopkins University reports that the COVID19 pandemic has killed more than 600,000 people, just in the United States.
Last month, NIH Director Francis Collins told the Washington Post that the Chinese government must be more transparent about the work in its labs where some suspect this virus may have emerged. “If they really want to be exonerated from this claim of culpability, then they have got to be transparent,” Dr. Collins said.
“Secrecy and nondisclosure are standard practice in China, but the NIH Director has made clear that public trust demands transparency and a rigorous investigation of the origins of a pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of American lives,” said Empower Oversight president, Jason Foster. “Director Collins should release all documents related to the request for those genetic sequences to be deleted to ensure that nothing important is being hidden from scientists trying to track down how this pandemic began.”
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