Almost 18 months after SARS-CoV-2, commonly called the coronavirus, was identified, the origin of the virus remains shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories.
An open letter published recently in the journal Science by 18 infectious disease experts, immunologists and epidemiologists is the latest in growing calls for answers.
“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks,” the letter reads.
“Zoonotic spillover” refers to the theory that the virus spread to human beings from an animal, some believe a bat. The theory about being released from a lab has piqued the interest of conspiracy theorists and scientists alike since there has not been a lot of access to labs within China.
“We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” the letter continues.
The scientists feel that without complete information, conspiracy theories could spread disinformation and policymakers cannot take proper steps during this pandemic or a future one.
The published letter includes experts representing some of the top academic and medical facilities in the world, including MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.
The World Health Organization was given access to gather information and study in the area where the pandemic broke out, in Wuhan, China and surrounding areas. However, during the two-week trip earlier this year, investigators say they were only allowed limited access to laboratories studying similar viruses and data on the earliest COVID-19 cases.
The report they published in March left some wanting more.
More than a dozen countries, including the U.S. and European Union, have expressed concern about the WHO study since it was published, pointing to delays and a lack of access to samples and data.
“The two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident,” the letter published from the health experts reads.
“Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report's consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility.”
Experts accept that it may never be possible to know for 100% certain what led to the first infection, but they are asking the international community to keep pushing for answers.
“A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest.”