New expert group will investigate origins of Covid-19

October 14, 2021 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has named 26 scientists to a new advisory body to investigate the origins of COVID-19, as well as other possible future outbreaks. This group includes scientists from 26 nations, including the United States and China, and it will tasked to explore how the novel coronavirus first infected humans, while establishing a response framework to prevent future outbreaks and pathogens to better avoid a global pandemic down the line.  

Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging disease and zoonosis unit, told The Washtington Post, “It’s a real opportunity right now to get rid of all the noise, all the politics surrounding this and focus on what we know, what we don’t know and what, urgently, we need to all focus our attention on.” 

Over 700 experts applied for a spot on The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) team, “with the scientists chosen not only for their ability but also with a nod toward diversity in gender, ethnicity, and place of residence.” Members of the group will for two-year terms, unpaid, with the possibility of extending their terms of service. The team will meet once a week and will be a permanent fixture for the WHO. 

China considers the investigation of the origins of COVID-19 completed, which will create challenges for SAGO. They will undoubtedly face a highly politicized environment from countries in the West as well, the U.S. included.  

Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health at Georgetown University, said, “If you believe that SAGO will answer the question, what was the origin of SARS-CoV-2, then you are sadly mistaken because there is little to no chance of them gaining access to information or on-the-ground investigation as far as China is concerned.” 

An internal investigation into the theory that COVID leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan was conducted in China, but it was found “very unlikely” and deemed “not worthy of further investigation.” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the investigation was not “extensive enough” to come to this conclusion so readily.  

“I think the biggest value will not be for COVID at all. I think the biggest value will be an expert standing committee rigorously vetted for any conflicts with a global charge to investigate novel pathogens,” Gostin argued. “This will not be the last one.”