Ruth Etzioni – Origin of the Pandemic

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Ruth Etzioni, PhD, is a Biostatistician and Professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.  She wrote an opinion piece for the Timmerman Report about the origin of the pandemic.  This blog post will discuss her opinions and the overview of her piece.

Etzioni says, “Without knowing where the SARS-CoV-2 Virus came from or how it began to infect people, it is hard to be strategic about preventing the next pandemic.”  In the blog she highlights that the standard explanation of the origin of the virus begins with a bat.  A bat that transmitted the virus to another animal, and that animal to humans.  This is called a zoonotic event, transmission of pathogens from animals to humans.

Virologists believe there was a species in between the bat and the human, because the viruses coming from a bat would need an opportunity to adapt before they are able to infect non-native species like humans. Other people believe that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have escaped somehow from a lab, however the WHO published a study saying this possibility is “highly unlikely”. Etzioni says the purpose of her opinion piece is not to convince the reader of what happened exactly, rather that everyone should be curious about how the virus started, and why we should be asking questions.

While the WHO established the theory of a lab escape as unlikely, other lab escapes have been documented around the globe, and there was in fact a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology doing research on bat viruses.  The problem with this Etzioni says, is that the original bat virus as a definitive source just hasn’t been found.  None of the sampling and sequencing data has returned any hard facts or proof for this theory.  However, the data from the Wuhan lab have been kept from independent researchers. 

Etzioni says the WHO’s report dismisses the lab escape as the least likely of four possibilities, however she also knows the likelihood of something is an assessment of probability.  In order to know the probability of a lab escape we would require extensive documentation escapes happen, but there is no documentation on that. And to know the probability of a zoonotic event starting the coronavirus pandemic, we would need to identify all possible encounters of humans with animals carrying the virus – which is impossible.

To summarize Etzioni’s thoughts, there are a few theories as to how the virus started, but not enough proof to determine it, and that she says, should make us all very curious.

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