Readers Respond on Lab Leaks #5

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June 11, 2021 4:13 p.m.

From TPM Reader JB

For what it’s worth, I think most of the discussion in the US political world about the origins of COVID-19 has been about ephemera, driven by Republicans flopping around like fish in a boat as they try to devise a winning post-Trump (but Trump-friendly) political issue and media people fretting about whether media coverage is giving adequate weight to the things Republicans claim to be upset about today.

What matters most: the story China has been telling about zoonotic origin has not been complete or persuasive. This means there are things we will not know, the Chinese may not know, and the Chinese government may know but has not communicated to its own people about how this virus moved from bats to people in a large city hundreds of miles away. Even if the zoonotic origin theory is correct, as it well may be, this is bad. It’s bad for the future of COVID-19 in China, and for other viruses that may spread from wildlife to humans there in the future.

The Chinese government has been typically secretive about the Wuhan lab. There is no mystery about the lab leak theory that could not be solved with open access to lab records and personnel. The problem isn’t with the lab itself, the researchers who work there, with the city of Wuhan, or with Western media. It’s with Beijing.

Finally, the Chinese government is responding to the pandemic by distributing, within China and overseas, vaccines produced in China. The World Health Organization regards one of these vaccines, produced by a company called Sinovac, as safe and effective. The other, produced by Sinopharm, is evidently safe but less effective for most people — and the Chinese government is distributing it without releasing test data on older people or those with comorbidities.

Lack of test data doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a risk people taking this vaccine might get infected anyway, spread the virus to other people, need to be hospitalized or die. The risk is not known; that’s the problem. It’s a much bigger problem for China itself, as the Sinopharm vaccine is being distributed most widely there, than it is for the rest of the world (though Sinopharm’s vaccine is evidently being widely distributed in some Middle Eastern countries: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/06/03/bahrain-seychelles-sinopharm-vaccine/).

China has been able to use the catastrophically bad response to COVID-19 in the United States and other countries to its geopolitical advantage. But in terms of global public health, the Chinese government has been a liability with respect to this virus since the fall of 2019. It remains so today; unless something changes, it is likely to be again in a future pandemic. Once everyone is past the “did-China-unleash-an-engineered-bioweapon-to-make-Trump-look-bad?” phase of our public discussion, it would be wise to focus on this. I’d like to believe the Biden administration is already starting to.

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