June 15, 2021 – The origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and the circumstances of the first cases of human infection, remain unknown. Science is our best tool to ascertain, or to understand to the extent possible, the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, which could help prevent future pandemics. However, misinformation, unsubstantiated claims, and personal attacks on scientists surrounding the different theories of how the virus emerged are unacceptable, and are sowing public confusion and risk undermining the public’s trust in science and scientists, including those still leading efforts to bring the pandemic under control.
We urge that investigations into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 be guided by scientific principles, including reliance on verifiable data, reproducibility, objectivity, transparency, peer review, international collaboration, minimizing conflicts of interest, findings based on evidence, and clarity regarding uncertainties. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, there are multiple scenarios that could, in principle, explain its origin with varying degrees of plausibility based on our current understanding. These scenarios range from natural zoonotic spillover (when a virus spreads from non-human animals to humans) to those that are associated with laboratory work. Scientists need to be able to evaluate all of these scenarios, and all viable hypotheses, with credible data. Data accessibility, transparency, and full cooperation from China, of course, will be essential for a proper and thorough investigation.
Although much still needs to be done to stop the pandemic, particularly in developing nations, science has made remarkable headway, especially through the rapid development of effective vaccines. The same scientific robustness, rigor, and cooperation should be applied to examining important questions about how the pandemic began.
President, National Academy of Sciences
John L. Anderson
President, National Academy of Engineering
Victor J. Dzau
President, National Academy of Medicine
Created to advise the nation, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provide independent, objective advice to inform policy with evidence, spark progress and innovation, and confront challenging issues for the benefit of society. www.nationalacademies.org