Why we are suing the NIH for Covid-19 information

Print Email Share Tweet

A year ago, a fearful world was struggling to emerge from a paralyzing pandemic, a confusing health care crisis that emerged swiftly to sicken and kill millions.

Today, nearly two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still struggling to find our way back from the catastrophic global consequences of the vicious coronavirus. And we are still without answers as to how and why this virus emerged seemingly out of nowhere. Scientists around the world have been seeking answers about the origin of Covid-19 because knowing how this virus moved into and through the human population could be crucial to avoiding, or preparing for, a similar event in the future.

That is why our nonprofit research group U.S. Right to Know has filed seventeen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asking this taxpayer-funded government agency to provide us – and the public – with correspondence, reports, and other information about the NIH knowledge of, and response to, the pandemic.

As a public interest group, our mission is focused on a fundamental tenet: Our government officials work for us, and we have a right to know what that work entails. That belief is not just sentiment; it is backed by public records laws across the country, and decades of court rulings that codify our right to know. We had hoped that the NIH would agree that there is a pressing public desire for transparency regarding Covid-19.

But after waiting and attempting to work with the NIH for more than a year, today we filed a lawsuit against the agency for violating the Freedom of Information Act regarding nine of our record requests. As an example, the NIH has not yet provided even a single record in response to a request we filed on Nov. 5, 2020, nor has the agency even provided a timeline for when it might provide documents. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, seeks a wide range of NIH records, including the following:

  • Communications between the NIH and a U.S. group called the EcoHealth Alliance, which has received tens of millions of dollars in U.S. government funding, and has partnered with and funded China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. The record requests seek EcoHealth grant applications, progress reports, funding agreements, and related documents.
  • Communications between the NIH and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  • Documents regarding NIH’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories.
  • Documents regarding the “Preventing Emerging Pathogenic Threats (PREEMPT) Program,” which is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
  • Communications between the NIH and the World Health Organization concerning the origins of COVID-19.

This is our second FOIA lawsuit against the NIH regarding the origins of Covid-19. In our first FOIA suit against NIH, the NIH proposed to provide the documents it was required to provide by law in a thirty-year timeframe. Even though we filed that FOIA request on July 10, 2020, the NIH has yet to provide us with a single document it has not previously released.

We’ve been told for almost two years now to ‘follow the science,’ to look to our government institutions for the facts about Covid-19, including how this novel coronavirus came to be. We’re trying to get to those facts and to bring them to light. Why the NIH is fighting us on this is not clear.

We know this much: It shouldn’t take lawsuits to get to the truth.

(Gary Ruskin is executive director of US Right to Know.)