Happy Spooktober! To kick off the month of fright, we are covering anti-science extremism, current threats to our homeland, and human exposure incidents to pathogens and toxins among our neighbors to the north. Also, this week we are featuring a new student writer, Sally Huang! Sally is a new student in our Biodefense PhD Program with a background in biomedical science and science policy and her scholarly interests include CBRN/WMD, global health, and biosurveillance.
BREAKING: President Donald Trump & First Lady Melania Trump Test Positive for COVID-19
Hours after proclaiming that “the end of the pandemic is in sight,” this morning, POTUS took to Twitter to reveal that he and FLOTUS have both tested positive for COVID-19. Both will quarantine in the White House for unspecified period of time.
Commentary – Event: Building Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience to Confront Future Pandemics
Sally Huang, a Biodefense PhD student, shares her insights from the Building Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience to Confront Future Pandemics event, a virtual meeting hosted by the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. The meeting brought together members of the legislative and scientific community for a virtual discussion on the need to increase and optimize resource investments to promote changes in US policy and strengthen national pandemic preparedness and response. Even as the nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, the various panelists unanimously acknowledged that the world will most likely face future pandemics. After having adapted to telework, decision-makers are determined to enhance and enact new policies and guidelines to better position the nation to effectively respond to future infectious disease threats. Areas requiring the nation’s attention were addressed in three separate panel discussions; emerging biological threats and innovative technology for biodefense, emerging biological risks, and the future of biodefense. Read Huang’s article here.
Commentary – Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center: Department of Homeland Security Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office by DeeDee
DeeDee Bowers. A Biodefense MS student, summarizes a webinar about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) new Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD). The DHS CWMD Office was created to coordinate federal efforts to plan, detect, and protect against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats. DHS CWMD was founded on the motto “100% focus, 0% margin of error.” Colonel Aeschleman pointed out that our enemies only have to be right once to have a devastating effect while CWMD protective measures must be constantly effective. It is with this mindset that the DHS CWMD Office set up a list of goals to achieve in Fiscal Years 2020-2024. Read Bowers’ summary here.
Schar School Virtual Open Houses & Sample Lectures
Calling all future biodefense experts! The Schar School of Policy and Government is hosting a series of virtual open houses and sample lectures for prospective certificate, master’s, and PhD students, which include the Biodefense Graduate Programs. On 22 October and 12 November, there will be Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open Houses at 6:30pm EDT. Virtual sample classes include “Globalization and Development After COVID-19,” “Energy and Climate Change – The National Security Odd-Couple,” and “Will COVID-19 Inspire Greater Interest in Bioweapons?” There are also several opportunities to attend Admissions Drop-In Sessions for both the Master’s programs and the PhD programs. To read the latest Master’s in Biodefense Career Report, click here. Register for these open houses and lectures here.
2019 Annual Report of the Federal Select Agent Program
The 2019 Annual Report of the Federal Select Agent Program, the fifth report of its kind, was just released to “provide the American public with insight into the regulatory activities of the program.” The Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP) is a program that regulates the possession, use, and transfer of biological select agents and toxins and it is jointly managed by the Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agriculture Select Agent Services (AgSAS) under the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Agriculture Select Agent Services (APHIS) at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The report précises program data regarding the numbers and types of registered entities; performed security risk assessments; the number of conducted inspections; key observations about inspection findings and regulatory compliance; reports thefts, losses, or release incidents; and publications and outreach activities. Read the full report here.
Anti-Science Extremism in America: Escalating and Globalizing
A new pre-proof editorial published in Microbes and Infection by Dr. Peter Hotez, an internationally-recognized physician-scientist in neglected tropical diseases and vaccine development, discusses the growing trend of anti-science extremism in the US. Over the last five years, there has been a steep rise in anti-science rhetoric within the US, especially from the political far right. Most of it focuses on vaccines and, of late, anti-COVID-19 prevention approaches. Vaccine coverage has declined in much of the country, which spurred an uptick in measles outbreaks in 2019. In COVID-19, the US-based anti-science movement has begun to globalize, establishing surprising associations with extremist groups and creating the potential for catastrophic consequences to global public health. A new anti-science triumvirate has developed that consists of far-right groups in the US and Germany, and amplification from Russian media.
Hold Russia Accountable for Latest Chemical Weapons Attack
Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program, and Andrea Stricker, a research fellow focusing on nonproliferation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, support the call for Russia to be held accountable for violating human rights and the rule of law. This is in response to the Novichok poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption activist. Navalny himself is demanding that the Russian government turn over the clothing he was wearing the day he was poisoned, which are key articles of evidence. Koblentz and Stricker emphasize that Washington and its allies should impose meaningful sanctions on Moscow in order to uphold long-standing international norms and laws against the use of chemical weapons.
FBI: Worldwide Threats to the Homeland
Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), issued a Statement Before the House Homeland Security Committee about the current worldwide threats to the US. As a result of the opportunities presented to hostile foreign actors, violent extremists, and opportunistic criminal elements in COVID-19, the FBI workforce now faces unique and unprecedented challenges. Threats include the spread of terrorist ideology via social media, cyber intrusions and state-sponsored economic espionage, malign foreign influence and interference, active shooters and other violent criminals, opioid trafficking and abuse, hate crimes, human trafficking, and crimes against children. These threats are challenging efforts in counterterrorism, election security, lawful access, information and intellectual property, and cybersecurity.
The Human Cost of the Trump Pandemic Response? More Than 100,000 Unnecessary Deaths.
“Since World War II, no American president has shown greater disdain for science—or more lack of awareness of its likely costs.” That statement was written in a 2018 article, long before the thousands of American lives lost and the millions of livelihoods destroyed as a result of COVID-19 and the botched pandemic response. Now, there have been over 205,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US, total federal outlays exceed $3 trillion, and over 14 million people are out of work. Nations such as Canada, Japan, and Germany have suffered far lower death rates thanks to their response decisions and actions. Though the US accounts for only 4% of the global population, it leads the globe in confirmed COVID-19 cases and has suffered 21% of the total deaths in the world.
New Document Reveals Scope and Structure of Operation Warp Speed and Underscores Vast Military Involvement
Operation Warp Speed (OWS) is a $10 billion initiative established to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. OWS is touted as a public health-focused endeavor, yet transparency about it is lacking. STAT obtained an organization chart that reveals OWS to be a “highly structured organization in which military personnel vastly outnumber civilian scientists.” According to the chart, about 60 military officials are part of the leadership of OWS, and many have never worked in health care or vaccine development. Additionally, the chart reveals which agencies are not key components of OWS leadership – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DoD) seem to be at the helm.
OPCAST Ad-Hoc Pandemic Response Group
OPCAST is a subgroup of former members of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Members include John P. Holdren, Christine Cassel, Christopher Chyba, Susan L. Graham, Eric S. Lander, Richard C. Levin, Ed Penhoet, William Press, Maxine Savitz, and Harold Varmus. OPCAST provides reports and recommendations regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Recent outputs include Recommendations for the National Strategic Pandemic-Response Stockpile, Epidemiological Modeling Needs New, Coherent, Federal Support for the Post-COVID-19 Era, and Testing for the Pathogen During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Future Ones.
Surveillance of Laboratory Exposures to Human Pathogens and Toxins, Canada 2019
In Canada, the Human Pathogens Act and the Human Pathogens and Toxins Regulations mandates laboratory incident reporting to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Laboratory Incident Notification Canada (LINC) surveillance system. This analysis objective describes laboratory incidents involving exposures that occurred in Canada during 2019 and individuals affected in these incidents. In 2019, there were 60 reported exposure incidents involving 86 individuals. Most exposure incidents involved microbiology activities (65%) and/or were reported by the academic sector (37%); the public health sector had the largest proportion of exposure incidents while the private sector had the lowest. In regard to those exposed, over one-third of had 0–5 years of laboratory experience and were hospital technicians or technologists. Inhalation was the most common route of exposure (62%) and human interaction (24%) was the most cited cause. This article highlights the importance of biosafety and biosecurity in laboratory settings in order to prevent accidents that could harm workers and enter into the general population.
Keep Your Mask On: Why a Coronavirus Vaccine Won’t Be the Panacea Many Hope For.
The development and dissemination of a COVID-19 vaccine has become the savior that society is relying on in order to return to some semblance of normal life. Though vaccines save lives from infectious diseases and have, in some cases, resulted in eradication of an infection such as smallpox, it cannot be our only defense against the novel coronavirus. A vaccine requires great expense and usually takes several years to become widely available. Even when the COVID-19 vaccine comes to fruition, many will either be unable to take it or struggle to access it. Thus, we need to continue to practice low-tech prevention measures like wearing a mask. In the words of Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “If I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”