A theory has been going around that frozen fish delivered to China was the original source of SARS-CoV-2. While to date, no transmission has been linked to food packaging despite multiple shipments of frozen food in multiple countries testing positive for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material, it is understandable why what otherwise sounds like a far-fetched theory was not dismissed outright. The reality is that SARS-CoV-2, and therefore covid-19, likely came from a small mammal. But we truly do not know for sure.
This was the backdrop for the World Health Organization's mission to Wuhan which concluded earlier this week. At its conclusion, the team left open the possibility that the virus may have been transmitted to humans through frozen food. While this scenario is highly unlikely, this investigation occurred in an extremely complex political and diplomatic landscape.
Determining a virus' origin, whatever that may be, could be an extremely long process. It can take decades and sometimes definitive answers never emerge. So, pinning down the origin of SARS-CoV-2 was never going to happen in two weeks. The WHO's mission was the start of a much longer process that will likely take years.
Ebola has been around for 40+ years and while we think it circulates in bats, we still haven't proved it by isolating infectious virus. We've only just sequenced a full genome from a bat. This isn't a movie, like Outbreak, where scientists find the host monkey and instantly end the pandemic. Nor is the WHO a law enforcement agency. They cannot simply show up to a country with a warrant and demand access to every relevant archive.
The purpose of the WHO mission is to lay the groundwork for a much longer collaboration. If the international community wants to be part of these origin studies, there must be a collaborative relationship with scientists in China and with the Chinese government. Building long-term productive collaborations requires diplomacy and trust, and the building and maintaining of productive relationships. That also requires compromise. Like it or not, China does not have to allow any investigation at all. The WHO team is there at the pleasure of the Chinese government and cannot conduct the type of forensic investigation that many inexperienced onlookers from afar have demanded. They are also not detectives by profession or hobby; rather, they are a bunch of microbiologists. In fact, these particular experts are not qualified to conduct an audit of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the WHO is going to investigate the lab origin hypothesis, far-fetched though it may be, they will need to assemble a team composed of individuals with actual forensic investigative skills. What this WHO mission can do, however, is to continue to study both natural zoonotic origin and the "frozen fish" theory. That is within their skill set. And as implausible as the frozen fish theory might be, investigating it might be a condition of investigating other origins as well.
Called the Federally Qualified Health Center program, on Tuesday the White House announced a new effort to increase community vaccination rates. Rolling out next week, the program will initially target at least one community health center in each state, allowing them to directly order vaccines from the federal government. In the coming weeks, this number will expand to two hundred fifty centers, with the eventual inclusion of all one thousand three hundred centers, responsible for an estimated thirty million people nationwide. This move is in keeping with President Biden's five-part national vaccination strategy.
Additionally, to help reach the goal of one hundred million vaccinations in one hundred days, the administration will raise the number of weekly doses delivered to states, territories, and tribal lands to eleven million for at least the next three weeks, described as a 28 percent increase since initiation. This possible expansion of vaccinations will likely be a result of President Biden's invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) in his initial flurry of Executive Orders in the first days of his administration. The White House.