'I am convinced that the virus came out by accident from a laboratory in Wuhan,' Says Moderna Vaccine Company Co-Founder

Will the science media's favorite COVID disinformation pundits label Derrick Rossi as “anti-vax”?

6 minute read

Moderna Therapeutics co-founder Derrick Rossi’s biotech company developed an innovative mRNA vaccine that has been praised as a leading weapon in the fight against the COVID pandemic. So, it comes as little surprise that Rossi, who recently retired from his faculty position at Harvard to focus on family and tackling global health problems, was among seven vaccine researchers who last week received the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research. Many consider the prize a stepping stone to the Nobel.

“It's humbling and exciting,” Rossi told The Canadian Press

What Rossi then told a Spanish journalist is sure to be much more controversial, however, at least among the army of self-appointed COVID disinformation wizards who patrol public discourse to beat down any mention of a virus lab leak as the pandemic’s cause. 

“It is a fact that a laboratory in Wuhan worked with these viruses, and I am convinced that it came from there, that it escaped,” Rossi told the Spanish newspaper El Comercio.

Since the pandemic’s start last year, science writers have promoted a stable of pundits who branded anyone questioning if the COVID virus came from a lab as a “conspiracy theorist.” The term “anti-vax” often served second-duty as a preferred denigrating label. But what will these online “fake news experts” call Rossi, whose company invented a vaccine, now that he is convinced the pandemic started with a Wuhan lab leak?

Here’s a sample of the authorities Rossi might expect to hear from.

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Angela Rasmussen

Virologist Angela Rasmussen has been a favorite voice for science writers, such as Nature’s Amy Maxmen, when trying to knock down claims that the pandemic’s origin could have been a Wuhan lab.

Rasmussen spent months on Twitter calling anyone a conspiracy theorist—among other names, as you can tell from her preceding tweet—if they voiced concerns about a lab leak, although she sometimes deployed the anti-vax label.

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Timothy Caulfield

After becoming Canada famous by obsessing over Hollywood actress/alt-health guru Gwyneth Paltrow and then gossiping that model Elle Macpherson dated anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield, law professor Timothy Caulfield immediately hopped aboard the COVID fact check speaking circuit. One of his early fact checks was “debunking” the lab leak theory which scientists now agree must be investigated

#ThinkBeforeYouShare indeed.

Like all fame-seeking gurus, Caulfield’s scientific prowess relies on aligning himself with whatever online presence might help to shine a spotlight on himself. After President Biden called for an investigation of the lab in Wuhan, Caulfield promoted…virologist Angela Rasmussen, who said that the lab leak was “much ado about nothing.” 

In early 2020, Caulfield told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that one of the many COVID “conspiracies” was that the COVID virus could have been engineered in a lab. A month ago, Facebook ceased banning posts that COVID might have been “man-made” after the White House called for a full investigation of the virus’s origin.

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David Gorski

As The DisInformation Chronicle previously reported, “Gorski’s Law” states that online debates with science skeptics end with you being labeled anti-vax. While Gorski spends countless hours on social media cheerleading vaccines, he seized on the COVID controversy to reiterate, echo, and recap that anyone who disagrees with him is anti-vax.


Below is a translation of Rossi’s interview with the Spanish newspaper, El Comercio.

"I am convinced that the virus came out by accident from a laboratory in Wuhan"

DERRICK ROSSI | CO-FOUNDER OF MODERNA

The biologist, who had to be vaccinated with Pfizer, fears that the coronavirus will become endemic and vaccine boosters will be required "every one or two years"

The Princess of Asturias is often a step prior to the Nobel Prize. What does it feel like to join this list of winners?

It’s awesome. I am deeply honored. Although I have to say that the job of a scientist is to explore nature, to find answers to the unknown. And if there is something that comforts me, it is that we have been able to find a solution to a disease that causes millions of deaths in the world. That makes me happier. I seem to have done my job well.

What do you think now that the name Moderna is known all over the world?

It’s very impressive. We are a company of 1,500 workers, so it is as unexpected as it is that there would be a global pandemic, and that one of our techniques would be so useful. When we developed messenger RNA, we didn't think of vaccines, but it has been shown to work. I believed, and still believe, that the future of this technique will serve to cure the more than 6,000 genetic diseases that exist in the world in addition to cancer. And I also hope it helps fight cancer. It is very motivating.

Were you one of the first to get vaccinated or did you wait your turn?

I waited my turn. And when it was my turn, that day, they were giving Pfizer. So, contrary to what many may think, I got vaccinated with Pfizer. And I am partly happy that it is so, because I then help to promote the idea that the important thing is to get vaccinated. All vaccines are safe and have been shown to help curb the pandemic. I recommend everyone to get vaccinated.

Yesterday, some cases of myocarditis in the United States were related to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Could there be a problem?

It is not at all clear that a direct relationship with the vaccines can be established. And in any case, they are such exceptional cases that the risk of not being vaccinated is infinitely higher. The danger of COVID making you sick or even dying is very high, and vaccines are already saving lives. Before the vaccine, in the United States there were about 250,000 daily infections, overloading hospitals and causing deaths. Now there are about 10,000 a day, and obviously that is because of the vaccine. Now the challenge is to reach all the countries of the world.

Can there be variants, such as Delta, that are resistant to the vaccine?

Viruses are the most perfect evolutionary unit that exists. They know how to adapt to any inconvenience and you may be able to adapt to the vaccine. The good thing about messenger RNA technology is that we are quickly able to adapt it as well, so I'm optimistic.

Will the vaccine serve to immunize us definitively?

It is difficult to know. It may be that the vaccine makes us generate a natural immunity and it is not necessary. But it can also happen that the virus changes or becomes endemic, like the flu, and we have to vaccinate every one or two years. In any case, we are increasingly prepared for it. What cost us the most was building the infrastructure to produce and distribute the vaccine. But that is being solved and we have an increasing capacity to reach the whole world.

Will there be more pandemics?

We quickly forget about past pandemics, such as the 1918 flu . . . especially politicians. I believe that this pandemic has been something exceptional, although there is no doubt that there will be more pathogens that jump to humans and cause diseases. I hope we are more prepared for it. And there will be technologies that we still have not discovered that will help us.

How could this have happened?

We have no evidence for any explanation, but this virus is so different from bats that it seems unlikely to me that it was a natural jump. It is a fact that a laboratory in Wuhan worked with these viruses, and I am convinced that it came from there, that it escaped. I don't think it was deliberate, they were just studying it and there was an accident. China denies it, of course, but this is the explanation that I see as most logical.

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