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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Biden announced Wednesday he has asked the U.S. intelligence community to "redouble their efforts" to investigate the origins of the coronavirus and provide a report within 90 days that "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion."

Why it matters: The debate over the origins of COVID-19 has been reinvigorated in recent days by previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill enough to be hospitalized in November 2019.

The state of play: Biden said in a statement that the U.S. intelligence community had "coalesced around two likely scenarios" for the origins of the virus — one, that it emerged from human contact with an infected and animal, and two, that it was the result of an accidental laboratory leak.

  • A joint team from the World Health Organization and China issued an inconclusive report in March that described the so-called lab-leak theory as "extremely unlikely."
  • But the report has been criticized by the U.S. and WHO leadership for its methodology and lack of transparency from the Chinese government, and top U.S. officials have called for a new investigation.

What they're saying: Biden said the U.S. intelligence community's current position is that “while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other."

  • "I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion, and to report back to me in 90 days," Biden said in a statement.
  • "As part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China. I have also asked that this effort include work by our National Labs and other agencies of our government to augment the Intelligence Community’s efforts. And I have asked the Intelligence Community to keep Congress fully apprised of its work."

Our thought bubble: Whether COVID-19 ultimately originated in an animal or in a lab, the bulk of the evidence is in China, which limits what the U.S. can find out. But Biden's statement underscores the fact that this debate will not end any time soon, and that the U.S. could ramp up pressure on China to cooperate.

Go deeper: The COVID lab-leak theory goes mainstream

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Sep 2, 2021 - Health

Israeli coronavirus vaccine booster data gives the U.S. hope

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Preliminary Israeli data shows that coronavirus booster shots quickly spike a person's protection against both severe disease and infection, suggesting that the additional shots could help blunt the virus' spread in the U.S. — although it's very unclear how much.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has said that the main rationale for its booster push is to stay ahead of any waning of the vaccines' effectiveness against severe disease. But slowing the spread of the Delta variant would be a welcome bonus.

Ousted Tennessee vaccine chief sues state officials for defamation over firing

Michelle Fiscus. Photo: William DeShazer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s fired vaccine chief, filed a federal defamation lawsuit on Thursday, alleging state officials skewed facts and misled the public as part of a coordinated campaign to destroy her reputation.

The backdrop: Fiscus was fired in July after facing criticism from Republican lawmakers over messaging to teenagers about the COVID-19 vaccine. A public battle ensued over Fiscus and her job performance.