June 12, 2024

GOP House members say HHS lied about lethal mpox virus

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is being put in the crosshairs of House Republicans who believe that Congress and the American people have been lied to. 

The lawmakers have accused the NIH on Tuesday of misleading the public about the potentially lethal mpox, or monkeypox, viruses, according to a report by The Washington Examiner.

According to an interim staff report from the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee, the group has determined that officials from the NIH, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)  have repeatedly misrepresented information to Congress regarding experiments that would have improved the efficiency of measles viruses.

“In order to start rebuilding trust in our government health agency guidance, agencies like the NIH must be honest and transparent with Congress and the American people,” committee leadership said in a press statement. “This report demonstrates a disturbing lack of judgment and accountability from HHS, the NIH, and particularly, NIAID. It is unacceptable and demonstrates the clear need for reform.”

The Investigation

The start of this inquiry was almost a year and a half ago when following an article about about NIAID scientist Bernard Moss in Science in September 2022.

According to the report, there was an experiment that was supposed to mix elements of the more deadly mpox clade I with the more easily transmissible strain mpox II.

A virus with a case fatality rate of 10% to 15% could have been produced during the experiment, according to the committee report. Since mpox is not considered a "pathogens with pandemic potential," the study could not have been classified as gain-of-function research according to regulatory standards.

How Records Were Filed

Public health agency officials and Moss himself maintained that the experiments were completely hypothetical and never happened when committee staff started asking HHS and NIH about them in October 2022.

However, according to public records, the Institutional Biosafety Committee at the NIAID formally approved the risky trial in June 2015.

Evidence suggesting the trials were not finished, such as lab notebooks or other contemporaneous evidence that implies the study was discontinued after receiving approval from the biosafety body, has not been supplied by NIAID thus far.

Republican Response

The actions of HHS were, understandably, characterized as "unacceptable and potentially criminal" in the Republican report.

“This deception appears to be part of a systematic effort by HHS and the NIH to delay and obstruct the Committee’s lawful investigation into NIAID’s risky research,” the report said.

Committee staffers from the Republican side told reporters on Tuesday that the bureaucracy and Congress no longer work together as they once did because the public health agencies have abandoned their duty to collaborate with lawmakers to guarantee the proper oversight of sensitive research.

Unfortunately, for the NIAID, there could be big changes coming in the way of a transfer of experiment approval away from the current agency, and toward the HHS.

The public information offered to members of the media by committee aides was that the investigation is still underway, and the lawmakers plan to ascertain the validity of the trials and attempt to look for possible additional harmful research.

They are looking for any missteps in movements by the so-called health agency that don't meet regulatory criteria, which could endanger the public.

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