Happy July 4th weekend to our US readers! This week, we cover the US release of smallpox vaccines to combat the spread of monkeypox, the first decade with CRISPR, and plenty of great publications and an exciting upcoming TEXGHS event. Also, the Global Partnership just turned 20, making it of legal drinking age in all G7 countries except for the US!
Happy Birthday to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction!
The G7-led Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership) turned 20 this week! Launched on June 27, 2002, at the Kananaskis G8 summit, the Global Partnership is an international initiative aimed at preventing the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and related materials. You can find the partnership’s latest newsletter and subscribe here to wish it a happy birthday.
Monkeypox Not Declared PHEIC, US Expands Vaccine Access
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released a statement on the report on the Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country monkeypox outbreak this week, writing:
I am deeply concerned by the spread of monkeypox, which has now been identified in more than 50 countries, across five WHO regions, with 3000 cases since early May. The Emergency Committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak, noted many unknowns, gaps in current data and prepared a consensus report that reflects differing views amongst the Committee. Overall, in the report, they advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox. They expressed their availability to be reconvened as appropriate.
The Director-General also expressed concern about current monkeypox outbreaks spreading into children and pregnant women, stating “We are starting to see this with several children already infected.”
Days later, the US announced a new vaccine strategy for monkeypox in the US, with phase one focusing on “rapidly scaling up the delivery of monkeypox vaccines and targeting at-risk groups with vaccination.” According to CIDRAP, this plan will see 296,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine made available this month, with 56,000 being allocated immediately. In the coming months, 1.6 million additional doses will be made available, according to the Biden administration, being distributed equally among states.
Select Subcommittee On the Coronavirus Crisis Meets
The US Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, met last week to discuss the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19. This was following the release of the subcommittee’s first report investigating the administration’s political interference with the federal COVID-19 response. Dr. Deborah Birx, former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, testified before the committee during a hearing, in which she stated that “dangerous ideas” undermined the administration’s response while also discussing failures in communication, ignoring of guidance, and more. Dr. Birx’s full transcribed interview and emails uncovered over the course of the investigation, including those indicating that senior White House officials believed case identification would damage the president’s reputation, can also be found on the subcommittee’s website.
A Decade of CRISPR
A decade ago this week, Jinek et al. published “A Programmable Dual-RNA–Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity” in Science and, while the paper initially received lackluster attention, it soon opened numerous doors for scientific advancement and won Doudna and Charpentier the 2020 Nobel Prize for chemistry. However, it is not without serious ethical and biodefense questions and concerns that, as The New York Times explained this week, are becoming more important than ever. One of these questions is how this technology can be used to alter human embryos, which became much more pressing when following He Jiankui’s 2018 experiment in which he edited a gene in three embryos to make them HIV-resistant. The embryos were later implanted in three women in Shenzhen and it was announced in 2019 that He and two of his collaborators were found guilty of “illegal medical practices”.
For more on the security risks of CRISPR and He’s experiment, check out Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s award winning article, “From CRISPR Babies to Super Soldiers: Challenges and Security Threats Posed by CRISPR,” in The Nonproliferation Review.
“Examining North Korea’s COVID-19 Data: A Curious Case Study”
Martyn Williams, writing for the Stimson Center’s 38 North, does a deep dive on COVID-19 in North Korea in this piece, helping shine some light on several burning questions, including the almost impossible official death count. He discusses a number of potential reasons for this, including deliberate misinformation, and discusses how it appears even North Koreans themselves are suspicious of these numbers, writing “Just as foreign analysts have questioned the figures and unusually low fatality rate, so it appears are North Koreans. On June 9, state media reported work was underway to “enhance the scientific accuracy, promptness and credibility of medical checkups, tests and treatment,” suggesting internal questioning of the numbers as well.”
Trust and Verify No. 170, Summer 2022 Released
VERTIC’s summer 2022 edition of Trust and Verify was recently released, featuring articles ranging from several discussing issues arising from the Russo-Ukraine war to others like the first meeting of states parties for the TPNW to a prosecution in Germany for a CW-related offense. An article on the role of women in the BWC and its enforcement is also featured.
“Roundtable – The Biological Weapons Convention at 50: Still Seeking Verification AFter 50 Years…”
In this piece featured by the American Political Science Association, Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders discusses historical challenges that prevented establishment of verification tools under the BWTC, taking readers through different periods of the treaty’s history and discussing the power of norms embedded in the treaty.
“One Health: A New Definition for a Sustainable and Healthy Future”
This PLOS Pathogens article features the One Health High-Level Expert Panel discussing how COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a One Health approach to outbreak response. They explain:
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic once more demonstrated the close connection between humans, animals, and the shared environment. Although still under investigation, the closest relatives of this virus exist in animals, and the factors leading to spillover remain to be fully understood. This interconnectedness again highlighted the need for a One Health approach. Although the One Health concept is not new and has been at the forefront of interdisciplinary and multisectoral discussions for years, there is now an increased interest for this approach to be applied and translated into action. Following a proposal made by the French and German Ministers for Foreign Affairs at the November 2020 Paris Peace Forum, 4 global partners, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Health Organization (WHO), in May 2021 established the interdisciplinary One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) (https://www.who.int/groups/one-health-high-level-expert-panel) to enhance their cross-sectoral collaboration. The creation of OHHLEP represents a recognition at the highest level of the urgency and complexities surrounding One Health and the intent to take this concept forward into policies and concrete actions.
New NCT Magazine Edition Issue on Biological Threats
June’s edition of NCT Magazine features “pieces by renowned professionals from the US and Europe that wish to share their views on the likelihood of biological threats as a result of modern synthetic biology tools. As in all disciplines, these members from the academia and first responders are a diverse group and they hold different views on SynBio,” in an effort to enrich discourse on the topic.
“Adding Novichok Nerve Agents to the CWC Annex on Chemicals: a Technical Fix and Its Implications for the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Regime”
Alexander Kelle’s recent work published by UNIDIR “discusses and analyses the use of a novichok nerve agent in the United Kingdom in March 2018. This triggered a political process at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that led to the amendment of the CWC schedules. It provides a factual overview of the scientific discussion around the novichok class of chemical agents, and how this has changed since the amendment of the CWC schedules was adopted. Against the background of the cases where nerve agents have been used for political assassination, the report concludes with a discussion of implications of the schedule amendments for compliance with, and implementation of, the chemical weapons prohibition regime.”
This report features our own Dr. Koblentz’s work with Dr. Stefano Costanzi on Novichok agents, “Novichok Agents: Further Amending the Chemical Weapons Convention Schedules and the Australia Group Precursors List after the Navalny Incident”.
“Public Comment on Oligo Synthesis Screening”
The Engineering Biology Research Consortium has published its comments in response to a request by HHS ASPR for comments on the Screening Framework Guidance for Providers and Users of Synthetic Oligonucleotides. EBRC convened a two-day workshop with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government to consider the Guidance, and the discussions that ensued formed the basis for this response.
TEXGHS: Monkeypox and the Western Media’s Portrayal of Infectious Disease
Join TEXGHS for their free monthly lecture series, featuring public health physician & global health thought leader Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor on July 12 at 12 pm CDT. Global health is colonial in its origin. This colonial nature is reflected in skewed leadership of global health organizations favoring the global north. It is also reflected in the way some western media outlets paint the African continent: as a disease-ridden continent (or country) incapable of helping itself. This bias reporting must stop in the interest of both global north and global south.
Russian WMD Disinformation Resources
We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:
“Russian Disinformation Finds Fertile Ground in the West”
Ilya Yablokov’s June article in Nature Human Behaviour discusses potential methods for tackling Russian disinformation in the West.
Recording- The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Biological Risks and Hazards in the World Today- with Special Focus on Russia and Ukraine
A panel of experts, including our own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, discussed evolving biological risks, the health security environment in post-Soviet states, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine- including those associated with Russia’s disinformation campaign at this event in May! Access the event recording here.
“A Perspective on Russian Cyberattacks and Disinformation”
Glenn Gerstell, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel of the National Security Agency, was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal event in San Francisco in front of a live audience. The discussion focused on Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine and Russia’s use of disinformation. Highlights of the discussion are available here.
“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”
The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.
Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15
The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.