On Wednesday, President Joe Biden ordered a fresh effort by intelligence officials to clarify the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the worst pandemic in nearly a century, including a new look at the possibility that it leaked from a controversial lab in Wuhan, China. But we will need much more than an intelligence inquiry to resolve this vital question, one that has been submerged in a mix of Chinese obfuscation, Trump administration conspiracy theories, and genuine scientific mystery.
COVID-19 is now the third major disruptive coronavirus epidemic of the 21st century, and we should expect others to follow. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in Southern China in 2002-03, causing significant global social disruption, including a severe epidemic in Toronto, Ontario. A decade later, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) arose on the Arabian Peninsula, ultimately causing a serious outbreak and many deaths in South Korea in 2015. It was in response to these two catastrophic coronavirus epidemics that our Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development embarked on a coronavirus vaccine program. We knew it was just a matter of time before we saw additional epidemics from this group of viruses.
Right on cue, COVID-19 emerged in Hubei Province, China.