RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- He's one of the nation's leading vaccine scientists and on Tuesday, Dr. Peter Hotez spoke to ABC11 to weigh in on a new report that the U.S. Department of Energy said it now believes the COVID-19 pandemic likely originated from a leak at the lab in Wuhan, China.
The Wall Street Journal reported DOE reached the assessment with "low confidence."
"Well, it's a bit confusing because they qualified it with low confidence," said Hotez, who serves as dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston and co-director of Texas Children's Hospital.
Hotez is more confident in previous scientific studies which suggest COVID emerged much like SARS did in 2002 or MERS in 2012 -- from animal to human contact in wet markets.
In June 2021, Hotez called the lab leak theory unlikely. He said despite the new report, he feels the same way.
"I think (the lab leak theory) is plausible. It's not impossible. But, I think it is unlikely," he said. "Based on the publicly available data and evidence, I see no reason to bring in a lab leak (as a possible origin). Now the Department of Energy said they're looking at classified information, and maybe there is something new in the classified information."
The nation's intelligence community remains divided on how the pandemic began. The WSJ reported that the FBI agrees with the Energy Department's lab leak conclusion. But, four other intel agencies determined the virus more likely spread through natural transmission: a human exposed to an infected animal.
Hotez said he strongly supports a thorough outbreak investigation composed of international scientists on the ground in China for up to a year. But that would require cooperation from China, which has resisted such a plan.
"It really does need to be done. And until we do that, we're not going to really understand, and here's why it matters: Mother Nature is telling us what she has in store. She's not being coy with us, right? Every seven years she's gonna hurl another major coronavirus pandemic at us. So by that calculation, we should be getting ready for COVID-26 or COVID-27," Hotez said.
Back in Washington, the White House insisted that President Joe Biden wants to get to the bottom of what happened to prevent another pandemic. China is responding by saying the U.S. should "stop speculating" and "stop discrediting China."