(NewsNation) — The White House isn’t ready to join in on the COVID-19 lab leak theory, although top officials said President Joe Biden believes it is important to get to the bottom of the virus’ origins.
The Department of Energy announced Monday it believes with “low confidence” the virus accidentally leaked from a lab in China, agreeing with the FBI in that assessment. But four members of the U.S. intelligence community believed with low confidence in 2021 that COVID was transmitted naturally from animals to humans.
Robert Daly, the director of the Kissinger Center Institute of China and the U.S., said the Department of Energy update is not that significant.
“We’ve moved with low confidence energy from one side of the ledger to the other, but nothing has really changed. The truth is that we don’t know,” Daly said.
No intelligence agency has said it believes the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 was released intentionally. The unclassified 2021 summary clearly stated: “We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.”
However, following the DOE’s conclusion, National Security Coordinator John Kirby responded, saying that the virus’ origins are still not known.
“What the president wants is facts. He wants the whole government designed to go get those facts. And that’s what we’re doing. And we’re just not there yet,” Kirby said.
So, why is there still no consensus on the virus’ origin three years later?
Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said it’s because there has been no coordination. There have been multiple agencies looking at the same thing and probably talking to the same people, he said.
“That’s a poor use of resources,” Pitts said. He explained the first thing the government needs to do is to have better coordination.
But that’s not the only problem causing the government to still not have an answer. Pitts explained that people’s opinions change based on the facts that are available, meaning it goes back to playing politics with COVID.
Pitts said it’s important to separate politics and do the science.
“The only way to prevent the next pandemic is to understand how this pandemic started,” Pitts said.
The Wuhan institute had been studying coronaviruses for years, partly because of widespread concerns — tracing back to SARS — that coronaviruses could be the source of the next pandemic. But China has called the suggestion that COVID-19 came from a Chinese laboratory “baseless.”
Last year, the World Health Organization recommended a deeper probe into a possible lab accident. However, WHO shelved the second phase of its investigation due to “ongoing challenges over attempts to conduct crucial studies in China,” Nature reported. But WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević denied the accusations, telling Politico the investigation “had not been abandoned, but needs access and data from China for knowledge to advance.”
Daly said we will probably never know how COVID-19 originated for the reason that China will never cooperate in letting it be known.
“The dilemma is, as long as we’re insisting on that investigation, which China will not give, we cannot cooperate with China to understand and prevent or manage the next pandemic, which might very well also emerge from China,” Daly said.
While Pitts said he doesn’t know if the government is doing enough to prevent the next global outbreak, he said the first step toward figuring out the coronavirus’ origin is talking about it.
“I think one of the big mistakes with COVID for the last couple of years is we chose to allow the states to take the lead, which meant we had no consistent plan, no consistent coordination and communications,” he said. “I think that the federal government needs to be the first among equals, the person at the head of the table, rather than allowing governors to do their own thing.”
Since the U.S. doesn’t have control over what happens in labs in other countries, Pitts suggested that one good next step the feds could take in preventing another worldwide pandemic would be to coordinate with other countries on how to deal with these very serious lab security issues.
Watch Peter Pitts’ full interview in the video players above. The Associated Press contributed to this report.