HHS suspends funding to group at center of COVID lab leak  

The decision from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) comes two weeks after bipartisan House lawmakers grilled EcoHealth President Peter Daszak about the group’s work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology and whether it conducted controversial gain-of-function research


The decision to proceed with debarment is effective as of May 15. It comes just one day before Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of National Institutes of Health (NIH), is set to testify before the select subcommittee on “discrepancies” between what NIH officials have previously said and what EHA’s Daszak said in his testimony to the panel. 


The Trump administration pulled funding to EcoHealth in 2020 amid the former president’s dispute with China over origins of the coronavirus. It was reinstated in 2023 after an investigation, but the administration then debarred the Wuhan Institute from U.S. taxpayer funding for 10 years.  


Republicans and Democrats have been stepping up their criticisms of Daszak and EcoHealth, and the administration’s decision drew bipartisan praise. 


EcoHealth’s behavior “is a departure from the longstanding legacy of good faith partnerships between NIH and federal grantees to advance science and the public interest,” Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), ranking member of the COVID select subcommittee, said in a statement. 


Committee chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) said the investigation is “far from over.”  


In her letter to Daszak, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions Katrina Brisbon cited a lack of oversight from EcoHealth over its grant recipients, failure to submit progress reports on time, failure to notify NIH when viruses studied at WIV grew beyond permitted thresholds and an apparent inability to disprove claims that it had violated terms of the grant. 


EcoHealth now has 30 days to appeal the decision from HHS. 


“EcoHealth Alliance is disappointed by HHS’ decision today and we will be contesting the proposed debarment,” a spokesperson for the nonprofit told The Hill. “We disagree strongly with the decision and will present evidence to refute each of these allegations and to show that NIH’s continued support of EcoHealth Alliance is in the public interest.”