Posted by on February 27, 2023 7:47 pm
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Biden officials say agency’s COVID origins view not ‘definitive’


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 The Big Story 

White House says new intel not ‘definitive’ answer on COVID-19 origins

The White House on Monday sought to make it clear that there is no consensus on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, pushing back on GOP vindication claims.

© Greg Nash, The Hill

“The intelligence community and the rest of the government is still looking at this,” John Kirby, a White House national security spokesperson, said at a press briefing.


“There’s not been a definitive conclusion, so it’s difficult for me to say, nor should I feel like I should have to defend press reporting about a possible preliminary indication here,” he continued. “What the president wants is facts. He wants the whole government designed to go get those facts. And that’s what we’re doing, and we’re just not there yet.”


Kirby was responding to reports that the Energy Department had concluded — based on new intelligence — that a lab leak in China was the most likely cause of the pandemic, a shift from the previous position that it was not clear how the COVID-19 virus began to spread. 


But the Energy Department study reportedly offered the conclusion with “low confidence,” and it’s not clear what the intelligence was that changed its conclusion.


The U.S. intelligence community is split on the conclusion that the virus leaked from a Chinese lab. Four other federal agencies believe that it likely jumped to humans from an animal host outside a lab. Those findings are also reportedly made with low confidence.


Because of the way the virus and its origins have been politicized, experts have said it is extremely difficult to sort through the available information and come to a definitive conclusion— especially without a full buy-in from China.


The World Health Organization has said the possibility the coronavirus could have escaped from a lab warrants “further investigations,” but its efforts have been stymied by China’s refusal to cooperate. 


Still, Republicans were ready to take a victory lap.


“Senator Tom Cotton deserves an apology,” the Republican National Committee tweeted Monday. 


In February 2020, despite pushback from U.S. officials, the Arkansas Republican raised the possibility that the virus had originated in a Chinese biochemical lab, though he later walked back the assertion that the virus was a weapon.


Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are leading calls for the White House to declassify all intelligence documents on COVID.  

Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care newsletter, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi — every week we follow the latest moves on how Washington impacts your health.

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Essential Reads 

How policy will be impacting the health care sector this week and beyond:

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) is “doing well” and “remains on a path to recovery” according to his office on Monday, following the freshman lawmaker’s decision to check himself into the hospital earlier this month to seek treatment for clinical depression. “We don’t have a lot to update folks with since there’s no real news to report except that John is doing well, working with the wonderful doctors, and remains on a path to …

A new federal assessment saying a lab leak was the likely origin of COVID-19 is feeding new oxygen into Republican calls for further investigations, even as scientists and the intelligence community say the issue is still far from resolved.  In the wake of a Wall Street Journal report published over the weekend on an Energy Department conclusion that COVID-19 most likely came from a lab leak in China, Republicans claimed …

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the Energy Department has concluded with “low confidence” that the COVID-19 virus emerged from a laboratory in China. The newspaper, citing a classified intelligence report, said the Energy Department’s new position adds to divisions within the intelligence community on what was behind the pandemic, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.  Here’s what …


The Hill event 

Rare Disease Day — Tuesday, Feb. 28 | 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Orphan Drug Act, a piece of legislation that re-shaped research and development for rare disease drugs through several incentives. What progress has been made since its passage? And what steps can Congress continue to take to ensure the best health outcomes for patients with rare diseases? Join The Hill in person at the National Press Club with Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), NORD VP Heidi Ross, Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic Co-Director at John Hopkins Thomas Crawford, MD, and more.


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Branch out with a different read from The Hill:

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Around the Nation 

Local and state headlines on health care:

After Capping Insulin Copays, Colorado Sets Its Sights on EpiPens (Kaiser Health News)
Rural Hospitals Are Shuttering Their Maternity Units (The New York Times)
Idaho dropped thousands from Medicaid early in the pandemic. Which state’s next? (NPR)


What We’re Reading 

Health news we’ve flagged from other outlets:

Dodgy science, poor access and high prices: The parallel medical world of medicinal marijuana in America (Politico)
Surprise-billing lawsuits slow payments processes (Roll Call)
After years of failure, study finds hearts were ‘pumping stronger’ after stem cell therapy (USA Today)


What Others are Reading 

Most read stories on The Hill right now:

Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire conservative media mogul who owns Fox News Channel, acknowledged that top hosts at his network endorsed former President … Read more

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What People Think 

Opinions related to health submitted to The Hill:

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The government will finally cover obesity care for its employees — but not the rest of us


You’re all caught up. See you tomorrow! 

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