October 20, 2021

Statement on Misinformation about SARS-CoV-2 Origins

To date, the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic has not been identified, despite intensive efforts to do so. This is not unusual — confirming with 100% certainty the origin of a virus is a long and complicated process. It took 14 years for scientists to find a single bat population that contained all the necessary genetic components of SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the 2003 SARS epidemic. We still do not know the origins of the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a definitive answer, misinformation and disinformation are filling the void, which does more harm than good. NIH wants to set the record straight on NIH-supported research to understand naturally occurring bat coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, funded through a subaward from NIH grantee EcoHealth Alliance. Analysis of published genomic data and other documents from the grantee demonstrate that the naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the NIH grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.

The scientific evidence to date indicates that the virus is likely the result of viral evolution in nature, potentially jumping directly to humans or through an unidentified intermediary animal host. Historically, many viruses have emerged from animals to cause epidemics and pandemics, including influenza, Ebola, Zika, West Nile fever, SARS, and more. Importantly, after an intensive investigation, agencies in the U.S Intelligence Community agreed that the virus was not developed as a biological weapon and most agencies assessed that SARS-CoV-2 most likely was not genetically engineered.

Public health and scientific organizations, including NIH, are intensely interested in getting a definitive answer to inform efforts to prevent future events. This effort would benefit from less speculation and more scientific cooperation, especially from China, without which the SARS-CoV-2 origins will be impossible to identify.

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institutes of Health