Pandora Report: 1.21.2022

As the United States continues to struggle amid rising case counts, we again find ourselves addressing a recurring issue- lack of public trust and bad information. That is what much of this week’s issue covers, including the CDC’s current battle to regain the public’s trust, DTRA’s response to allegations it’s running BW labs internationally, and a new study warning of the media’s influence on pandemic response. We also cover a number of new developments before rounding out with fresh publications, events, and a couple of special announcements.

The Biden Administration and CDC’s Ongoing Struggles

As we reached the one year anniversary of the Biden administration’s announcement of its more than 200-page long National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, experts have taken time to reflect on the year since it was introduced. While the plan itself was well-articulated, encouraging, and created a sharp contrast to the prior administration by providing an actual pandemic exit strategy for the country, the U.S. is still struggling with the latest surge. Among other criticisms, some noted the patchwork of masking policies across the country, arguing the Biden administration has missed many opportunities to be more comprehensive in its approach to this measure in favor of pushing others, such as distributing COVID-19 rapid tests to American households. This is echoed in critiques of the decentralized structure of school and business re-openings nationally as yet more argue school districts have essentially been left to fend for themselves. Still, others continued to praise the administration for making the best it can of the situation, particularly amid uphill political battles. The lack of consistency and failure to deliver on some of the key promises of the administration’s initial COVID-19 plan, combined with focusing on certain mitigation measures, some argue, has allowed variants to push the nation’s healthcare system to its brink. However, it is worth noting that the new administration has made good progress on its vaccination goals and did manage to pass COVID-19 relief packages.

Still, one of the biggest concerns that has emerged is waning faith in the CDC and its leader, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. While the CDC once enjoyed broad public trust, it has suffered as pandemic fatigue grows and it struggles to cope with providing new guidance backed by imperfect science. While President Biden entered office promising to restore CDC’s reputation, this has proved difficult, especially in recent months as even some in the public health community have criticized the agency for what they view as hastily issued guidance (such as last spring, when they declared vaccinated people no longer needed to mask or social distance, or recently when they made major changes to isolation and quarantine guidance), inconsistent communication, and, most recently, controversial statements about whom is most impacted by the Omicron variant. As the administration’s ongoing challenges in curbing the pandemic in the U.S. suggest, all the good intentions in the world quickly mean very little without sound policy implementation and effective communication. While we cannot necessarily fault the administration for struggling to adapt to new variants, the breakdown in communication at CDC is a major problem, particularly as some in the public latch onto changes in guidance as evidence that the threat is overblown or the administration has no idea what to do. Dr. Walensky acknowledges that she should have been more explicit about how her agency’s guidance was likely to change as the situation evolved, but it remains to be seen if this will translate into more effective communication from CDC moving forward.

The Continued Fight Against Mis- and Disinformation

DTRA Responds to Cooperative Threat Reduction Program Allegations

The Department of Defense has responded to recurrent Russian allegations that the United States is producing bioweapons in various laboratories around the world. One lab in particular, the Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, has repeatedly been targeted by such accusations. These claims, which were first issued by the Russians in 2017, have been refuted by many, most notably the U.S. State Department, Dr. Filippa Lentzos, and Roger Roffey and Anna-Karin Tunemalm of the Swedish Defence Research Agency. The Lugar Center is part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which works with foreign partners to “eliminate WMD-related systems and materials, consolidate and secure WMD-related systems and materials, and detect and interdict WMD-related trafficking or outbreaks of especially dangerous diseases.” This program was established to respond to the legacy of the Soviet Union’s WMD programs, which, at the time of the USSR’s collapse, still boasted an estimated 30,000 nuclear weapons, 40,000 tons of chemical weapons, and a “robust biological capability” spread over 15 sovereign states, according to DTRA. The video below includes the statement by Chris Park, Deputy Head of Delegation to the Biological Weapons Convention from the U.S. State Department, refuting the claims once more in November 2021. The United States wholly refutes claims it is developing biological weapons, that these laboratories in the CTR Program violate international law, and that it is unwilling to work with the UN and other countries to strengthen the BWC.

Analyzing Natural Herd Immunity Media Discourse in the United Kingdom and the United States

This new article in PLOS Global Public Health analyzes news media publications focused on herd immunity in the U.S. and U.K. from March 11, 2020, through January 21, 2021, totaling 400 U.K. and 144 U.S. articles. The researchers found that government figures and a small but especially vocal group of academics played the most prominent roles in promoting natural herd immunity in the media, while critics of this idea largely stemmed from academia and public health. The researchers argue that this false sense of balance in news media coverage contributed to false belief among the general public that natural herd immunity was a legitimate approach to pandemic response while potentially undermining more widely accepted mitigation techniques. They ultimately conclude that, “The presentation of herd immunity in news media underscores the need for greater appreciation of potential harm of media representations that contain false balance.”

New from GAO- HHS is Solely in Charge of COVID-19 Vaccines Now, but it Remains Unclear if the Department is Ready to Handle Them Alone

A new report issued from the Government Accountability Office on 1/19/2021 discusses how federal efforts to develop, manufacture, and distribute COVID-19 vaccines (previously known as Operation Warp Speed) has transitioned from being led by both the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. GAO determined that it is unclear if HHS is ready to assume all of this responsibility, particularly in the areas once led by DOD, writing that, though HHS has assessed its workforce capabilities, it has not reconciled the loss of specialized DOD personnel. Of note too, multiple experts have cautioned that the FDA and CDC, both under HHS, struggle to work together cohesively, which doesn’t bode well for this or future pandemics. The report concludes with five recommendations to help HHS better assume this responsibility and coordinate with external stakeholders and prompt the Secretary of Defense to expand the Countermeasures Acceleration Group’s lessons-learned review. Check out this new report here on the GAO website.

Is There Time for Cautious, Preemptive Post-Omicron Optimism?

As many have latched onto the idea that Omicron is “mild” compared to the original and Delta strains, attention has also begun to shift to how Omicron might change the landscape of the pandemic after it dies down. We discussed last week how preliminary studies from South Africa indicate asymptomatic carriage of Omicron may be even more of an important feature than it was with previous strains, but we also have information that, though case counts and hospitalizations are on the rise, the disease is generally more moderate now. This has led some to argue we may have a reprieve after this variant ebbs, though this is hardly encouragement to let down our guard. Rather, it’s a lesson in what relativity looks like in the third year of a pandemic. While some are also insisting Omicron is the last wave of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci argues we are still in the first phase of the pandemic, or “the truly pandemic- where the world is really very negatively impacted as we are right now,” as he explained at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda on Monday. This would mean we still need to get through deceleration, control, elimination, and eradication, the latter of which seems increasingly unlikely as more and more countries begin to seek strategies for living with endemic COVID-19. While the potential for an Omicron-specific booster and the newest data about how a less-severe variant has the potential to weaken COVID-19 overall are hope-inspiring, it’s important to be honest about where we are with the pandemic- the U.S. is still struggling to get it under control at home and vaccination rates continue to lag in much of the developing world, potentially creating more opportunities for new variants to emerge and prolong global suffering. Finally, as Nature recently highlighted, we likely do not even have a correct global death toll for COVID-19. While the current global total is at over 5.57 million, global excess deaths- a number that compares all deaths recorded with those that are expected- are estimated at double to quadruple this number since the pandemic began. So, while we might be able to cautiously prepare to turn a corner, it is important to consider what all we still have to contend with in order to get anywhere near an end to this pandemic.

Walgreens Steps Up to the Plate, Launches COVID-19 Tracking Tool

The pharmacy chain Walgreens launched its COVID-19 Index this week, according to USA Today. The index, which you can access here, provides an overview of national positivity rates and variant proportions by state dating back to 12/21/2021, an Omicron proportion tracker dating back to 11/25/2021, and a variant tracker dating back to 5/2/2021. This index uses data gathered at 5,000 Walgreens stores across the country, using a portion of the PCR tests conducted in storefronts to allow Aegis Sciences Corps. to process the data and update the index every 24-48 hours. Dr. Kevin Ban, Chief Medical Officer for Walgreens, stated that he hopes this national data can “drive down into the state level…and make it actionable.”

2022 Doomsday Clock Still at 100 Seconds to Midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveiled the 2022 Doomsday Clock, revealing that it is at 100 seconds to midnight once again. The clock represents the potential for a global, man-made catastrophe and has been maintained by the Bulletin since 1947. The furthest the clock has been from midnight was 17 minutes in 1991, with the closest being 100 seconds (which it has stayed at since 2020). Among top factors influencing the Clock’s time this year were nuclear issues, climate change, disruptive technology and disinformation, and what the Bulletin described as the “burgeoning biological threat to civilization.” Check out Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk’s statement on the 2022 announcement here.

New Proceedings of a Workshop Available from National Academy of Medicine

The National Academies Press has just released the proceedings from its International Workshop on COVID-19 Lessons to Inform Pandemic Influenza Response, hosted in May 2021. The current pandemic has made clear weaknesses in global and domestic preparedness, highlighting the need to improve our planning for future influenza pandemics. The global response to COVID-19 has also demonstrated how quickly we can respond to novel diseases, including through rapid vaccine research and roll-out. As such, the National Academies convened this workshop in an attempt to better understand how we can improve our response capabilities for both seasonal flu and future pandemics. This publication offers a high-level summary of the various presentations and discussions that occurred over the course of the workshop. Sections include global coordination, partnerships, and financing, vaccine R&D, vaccine distribution, and research translation and communication. You can purchase a physical copy or download a free PDF here and watch the workshop’s recording here.

New from CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has released their report, “2022 Is the Year of Decision,” detailing the Commission’s conclusion that, amid the Omicron surge, it’s time for the country to re-think its approaches at home and abroad to not only curtailing this pandemic, but preparing for future global health security threats. Recommendations made in the report include “launch a U.S. international pandemic initiative; appoint a presidential global health security envoy; prioritize vaccines as the backbone of both the domestic and international response; make therapies and tests among the highest priorities; take a strategic approach to developing future vaccines, therapies, and diagnostic technologies; prioritize the establishment and resourcing of a pandemic fund and high-level leaders’ council; elevate the global role of the Department of Defense; and pursue détente with China on global health security.”

“Innovative vaccine approaches- a Keystone Symposia report”

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences has released a new Concise Original Report detailing expert discussion from June 28-30, 2021, on vaccine research, development, manufacturing, and deployment from the eSyposium, “Innovative Vaccine Approaches”. This report spans a wide variety of topics, including differential outcomes of oral vaccines and use of reverse vaccinology to develop an antigen-based vaccine. It also features a write-up of the symposium’s keynote address from Dr. Rino Rappuoili, entitled “10 months to a COVID-19 vaccine- how did we get here?” The report is available here.

Public Health On Call

This podcast, produced by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has recently released new episodes on the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes one with Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease physician at UC San Francisco and HIV expert, discussing what the pandemic may look like throughout this year as well as an update episode on COVID-19 vaccines and immunocompromised patients. The podcast continues to offer near real-time updates and expert commentary as the pandemic progresses. Give it a listen here.

Strengthening the Implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention

The UN Institute for Disarmament Research is offering this webinar on January 25 at 7 am EST to present findings of the newly published UNIDIR paper, “Enhancing the Management and Enforcement of Compliance in the Regime Prohibiting Chemical Weapons” (link here), and offer an update on the institute’s work on gender and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Speakers will include Dr. Ralf Trapp (independent consultant on CBW), Mr. Cheng Tang (former chair of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Scientific Advisory Board), Dr. Una Jakob (senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt), Ms. María Garzón Maceda (research assistant at UNIDIR WMD Programme), Dr. Renata Hessmann Dalaqua (UNIDIR Gender and Disarmament Lead), and Dr. James Revill (UNIDIR WMD and Other Strategic Weapons Programme Lead). Register for this event here.

Emerging Technologies and Customs Enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540

The Strategic Trade Research Institute (STRI) along with representatives from the Republic of Korea and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs are offering this online event to discuss emerging technologies available to customs, their applications, and national experiences integrating these technologies into customs enforcement. Discussants will include Dr. Andrea Viski (Director of STRI and Schar School Adjunct Professor teaching courses on strategic trade controls), Ms. Milena Budimirović (Senior Technical Office at the World Customs Organization), and Mr. Sanaullah Abro (Director of Risk Management Systems at Pakistan Customs). It will convene on January 27 at 9 AM EST. RSVP here.

Reimagining Preparedness in the Era of COVID-19

Registration for the 2022 Preparedness Summit, entitled Reimagining Preparedness in the Era of COVID-19, is open. While we continue to combat COVID-19 and concurrent all-hazard events, it is important to come together as a professional community to assess where our preparedness and response efforts have fallen short, met the mark, or exceeded expectations, and to explore opportunities to refocus, plan, and reimagine the future. The Summit will provide an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned from current and previous responses, and highlight tools, resources, and learnings that we can be applied in the future. The summit will take place from April 3-7 in Atlanta, Georgia. To learn more, please visit their site here.

Earth Emergency Now Streaming Through 1/28/2022

This revealing film examines how human activity is setting off dangerous warming loops that are pushing the climate to a point of no return – and what we need to do to stop them. With captivating illustrations, stunning footage and interviews with leading climate scientists as well as support from Greta Thunberg, Earth Emergency adds the missing piece of the climate puzzle. Click here to stream it from the PBS website. Other documentaries are also available currently, including Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria, which discusses ongoing challenges with antimicrobial resistance, and China’s COVID Secrets.

14th Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit

The Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit will be hosted from February 7 through 9 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Reagan National Airport) in Arlington, VA. This conference will bring together leaders in nuclear deterrence from across academia, government, and industry to discuss the future of the nuclear deterrence mission and allow attendees to network with one another. Registration is still open here.

Work with Dr. Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London and Dr. Gregory Koblentz of George Mason University

Drs. Lentzos and Koblentz are now seeking a Research Associate for their ongoing project, GlobalBioLabs.org. Two positions are available (one for six months and one for nine months). The job description is as follows:

Job description

The post holder will be required to undertake and support original, high-quality research to map high biocontainment laboratories globally and biorisk management tools and practices locally. The post is part of a project to update and expand the publicly accessible interactive map of global labs and biorisk governance available at GlobalBioLabs.org. The successful candidate will join a project team led by Dr Filippa Lentzos at King’s College London and Dr Gregory Koblentz at George Mason University. This post will be offered on part time (50% FTE), fixed term contract for 9 months.

Serve as an Editor for Upcoming Collection of One Health Resources Launched by CABI

CABI, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, has released a call for editors for its One Health Resources Initiative. CABI explains, “Established over a hundred years ago, CABI is an international, inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization that improves lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. It puts information, skills and tools into people’s hands. CABI’s 49 Member Countries guide and influence its work which is delivered by scientific staff based in its global network of centres.” This initiative will consist of CABI One Health (a new Open Access journal focused on the full-scope of One Health), Collection of One Health Cases (a curated collection of real-world examples of One Health in practice), and the One Health Knowledge Bank.

Editor-in-Chief of CABI’s One Health resources, Professor Jakob Zinsstag, and Deputy Editor, Dr Lisa Crump – both of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute – are now recruiting a global editorial board of Senior and Associate Editors for this integrated collection of resources.  Senior Editors should have demonstrated significant One Health research output in leading journals, with previous membership of journal editorial boards and experience of peer review. They should have a strong international network of collaborators and partners who could contribute research articles and case studies. Associate Editors should have evidence of an active and relevant One Health publication record for their current career stage, and experience of peer reviewing articles. Experience of delivering One Health educational programs is also desirable. Those interested in responding to this open call for editorial board members of the new CABI One Health resources are invited to contact the Editors at CABIOneHealth@cabi.org for more information. Article and case submissions will open in early 2022, with the first content to publish later this year. The Editors would also love to hear from researchers or practitioners who may have research or practical One Health case studies ready to share.

Pandora Report: 1.14.2022

It’s Friday, which means we have all made it through one more week of being hit left-and-right with all the Omicron news as the global case count reaches 320 million. That won’t stop now as this issue tracks a number of Omicron updates, including some preliminary information from studies in South Africa indicating that this variant is spreading so much because more people are carrying it asymptomatically. We round out this week with an assortment of other items, including multiple new publications and virtual events to stay at home with as hospitalizations continue to climb.

OMICRON, OMICRON, AND MORE OMICRON

From NPR: What we know about Omicron and when to get tested

As cases of the Omicron variant continue to surge globally, it is clear now that these cases can present differently than those with other strains, especially as the cough is often milder or non-existent while fever generally remains less common. This comes amid new changes in testing requirements and guidance, creating more confusion for many of us. To help you keep on top of all this new information, keep up with NPR’s ongoing reporting on Omicron symptoms and updates and changes in testing guidelines.

Preliminary findings from studies in South Africa indicate that Omicron has a much higher rate of asymptomatic ‘carriage’ than other variants of concern

These findings, part of the preliminary ones from the paper, “High Rate of Asymptomatic Carriage Associated with Variant Strain Omicron,” suggest the higher number of people carrying the Omicron variant while remaining asymptomatic likely is a major factor in the variant’s global spread- even within populations with previous high rates of COVID-19 infections. The studies these findings come from are ongoing, with the researchers seeking to better understand what Omicron asymptomatic carriage looks like in long-term care facilities and hospitals where high-risk populations might become infected more often. This all comes as the U.S. healthcare system once again is pushed to its limit, despite so much attention being paid to this variant’s milder nature. Though there are more incidental COVID-19 cases among those reporting to hospitals for other emergencies or routine procedures who then test positive, these still present hospitals with dangerous opportunities for the variant to spread internally, as Emily Anthes of the New York Times recently covered in an episode of The Daily. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University conducted research which preliminarily suggests the risk of being admitted to the hospital or ICU amid the Omicron surge is about half the risk there was during the Delta surge which, amid staggering numbers of hospitalizations, again emphasizes the importance of considering how asymptomatic carriers may drive outbreaks and threaten the healthcare system.

A National Strategy for the “New Normal” of Life With COVID

As the world breaks its previous record by adding another 100 million cases in just five months, world leaders are increasingly turning to the idea of living with COVID-19 as some sort of new normal. Before the Omicron surge, in fact, countries like South Korea even began to implement plans designed to help their people learn to live somewhat as they used to while remaining aware of the risk. Late last week, the New York Times reported that three opinion articles were published in JAMA by some of President Biden’s top transition advisors, including Drs. David Michaels and Ezekiel Emanuel, urging him to create a new domestic pandemic strategy designed to accept living with COVID-19 indefinitely rather than wiping it out. While it might seem odd for the authors to publish these articles in the journal rather than discussing their suggestions with the administration directly, the authors indicated they did so because they struggled to make progress in talking directly with the White House. Following their publication, Dr. Anthony Fauci declined to comment on them while the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, dodged questions about whether or not POTUS is warming up to the idea or not. However, some point to recent CDC guidance and President Biden’s efforts to keep schools and businesses open as evidence that he does favor this approach. As South Korea’s swift reversal on its planning and the current crisis state of the U.S. healthcare system indicate, the situation that was present when many such calls for living with the virus were made last year is not the one we are living in right now.

Tuberculosis Mortality Increases for the First Time in Over a Decade Amid COVID-19

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine discusses how, as most of us have witnessed in some capacity, the COVID-19 pandemic has harmed other public health efforts, especially tuberculosis services. The article, “Covid-19’s Devastating Effect on Tuberculosis Care — A Path to Recovery,” explains how inequities in global health continue to exacerbate this problem. For example, just 8% of people in low-income countries had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by the end of last year, combining higher poverty rates with more chances for new variants to emerge in these areas, further limiting access to tuberculosis care. The researchers explain the WHO estimates almost 10 million people contracted TB in 2020, though only 5.8 million were reported, marking an 18% decrease in reported cases from 2019. However, the decrease was concentrated in 16 countries, with those in Asia (particularly India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China) having the biggest decreases in reporting, all of which also experienced major COVID-19 outbreaks and healthcare disruptions during this period. They note that, in 2020, about 1.5 million people died from TB globally, the first year-over-year increase since 2005. This came with a 15% reduction in the number of people treated for drug-resistant TB (an increasingly pressing challenge globally) and a 21% decrease in people seeking preventative treatment for TB. It’s important to note, too, that this comes as the WHO continues to struggle and seek out a new TB vaccine as the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine is over a century old and is variably effective against adult pulmonary TB. This article serves as a good reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic does not exist in a vacuum and it is actively exacerbating ongoing global health challenges.

OTHER ITEMS OF INTEREST

World Economic Forum Releases 2022 Global Risks Report

The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report, as expected, is in large part defined by how the world continues to change as the pandemic drags on. The report discusses how the great gap between the developing and developed worlds in ongoing economic recovery risks deepening global divisions “at a time when societies and the international community urgently need to collaborate to check COVID-19, heal its scars and address compounding global risks.” Such risks identified in this edition include disorderly climate transition, digital dependencies and cyber vulnerabilities, barriers to migration, and space competition. Importantly, as Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the WEF, notes in the report, “Last year’s edition of the Global Risks Report warned of potential knock-on economic risks that are now clear and present dangers. Supply chain disruptions, inflation, debt, labour market gaps, protectionism and educational disparities are moving the world economy into choppy waters that both rapidly and slowly recovering countries alike will need to navigate to restore social cohesion, boost employment and thrive.” The last portion of the report also discusses how most countries have seen both great success stories and complete failures at different times throughout their pandemic response, indicating the need to develop flexible response strategies at the national level that use whole-of-society approaches for future pandemics.

Cultivating the Biosafety Profession

The International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA) has just launched its new initiative, Cultivating the Biosafety Profession. Under this program, IFBA will place a priority on “formalizing biosafety and biosecurity as a career path within the higher education university system in selected universities around the globe.” This comes as many countries around the world suffer shortages of professionals trained to ensure biosafety in laboratory facilities that most need them. As such, this initiative will work to ensure that this profession is formalized while trying to attract young scientists and students to this less-visible profession, ultimately scaling up a skilled workforce that is better able to implement the WHO’s Laboratory Biosafety Manual. This will include a pilot undergraduate program at the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya, which IFBA hopes will later serve as a model for other universities and help normalize degree programs specific to biosafety and biosecurity. For more information on the initiative, read here.

Possible Link Between Epstein-Barr Virus and Multiple Sclerosis

Acclaimed New York Times health reporter and author of Flu, Gina Kolata, discussed in her article this week a new study from Science discussing the prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) in U.S. service members who were infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The study, “Longitudinal analysis reveals high prevalence of Epstein-Barr virus associated with multiple sclerosis,” analyzed a cohort of over 10 million active duty service members over two decades, ultimately finding that 955 of them were diagnosed with MS while serving. The researchers, led by Dr. Alberto Ascherio at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, determined that the risk of developing MS increased 32x after infection with EBV while it did not increase after infection with other viruses. They note that their findings are not explained by known risk factors for MS and suggest that EBV might be a leading cause of MS. In fact, among the study’s group of service members who were not infected until later in their service, 32 of the 33 were infected with EBV before they developed MS. Kolata notes that the disease is rare, with the risk of developing it sitting at .5%. However, she continues, EBV is known to infect nearly all of us at some point (and stays in the body for life), though most of us will never notice. Other risk factors include things like smoking or low vitamin D levels, which these researchers also identified in their data. For more information, read Kolata’s article here.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES

The past, the present and the future are in our hands – Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Risk Mitigation

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute has just released their new edition of Freedom From Fear Magazine detailing how the pandemic has highlighted global CBRN vulnerabilities, particularly as criminal elements take advantage of the disorder caused by the pandemic. While there is some debate about whether or not the pandemic will inspire terrorists and criminals to consider using biological weapons, this issue highlights how the CBRN field is often prone to fragmentation, which the authors argue causes threats to be studied in isolation, creating a counterproductive lack of coordination and more vulnerabilities. They advocate for the UNICRI’s CBRN Center of Excellence’s approach to global good governance and cooperation in this area by discussing what the 62 countries involved in the iniative have done in this area since the pandemic started. They conclude that, “A key lesson learned from the CBRN programme is the importance of protecting communities.  Awareness of CBRN risks must be raised across the public at large, starting in local communities with CBRN stakeholders and extending to community leaders, NGOs, media, universities, students, and parents.”

Systematizing the One Health Approach in Preparedness and Response Efforts for Infectious Disease Outbreaks

One Health month brings us a new publication from the National Academies, this time documenting the proceedings of a workshop convened by the Forum on Microbial Threats on February 23-25, 2021. This workshop considered in particular “research opportunities, multisectoral collaboration mechanisms, community-engagement strategies, educational opportunities, and policies that speakers have found effective in implementing the core capabilities and interventions of One Health principles to strengthen national health systems and enhance global health security.” This proceedings of a workshop summarizes the presentations and discussions from the event and is available for pre-order from the National Academies Press here.

Finally- a book on health security intelligence

Routledge has just published the first book on health security intelligence, aptly named Health Security Intelligence, edited by an all-star team comprised of Drs. Michael S. Goodman, James M. Wilson, and Filippa Lentzos. Check out the blurb:

Health Security Intelligence introduces readers to the world of health security, to threats like COVID-19, and to the many other incarnations of global health security threats and their implications for intelligence and national security.

Disease outbreaks like COVID-19 have not historically been considered a national security matter. While disease outbreaks among troops have always been a concern, it was the potential that arose in the first half of the twentieth century to systematically design biological weapons and to develop these at an industrial scale, that initially drew the attention of security, defence and intelligence communities to biology and medical science. This bookcharts the evolution of public health and biosecurity threats from those early days, tracing how perceptions of these threats have expanded from deliberately introduced disease outbreaks to also incorporate natural disease outbreaks, the unintended consequences of research, laboratory accidents, and the convergence of emerging technologies. This spectrum of threats has led to an expansion of the stakeholders, tools and sources involved in intelligence gathering and threat assessments.

This edited volume is a landmark in efforts to develop a multidisciplinary, empirically informed, and policy-relevant approach to intelligence-academia engagement in global health security that serves both the intelligence community and scholars from a broad range of disciplines.

The chapters in this book were originally published as a special issue of the journal, Intelligence and National Security.

This book is available for purchase here and, at the time of writing, Routledge is currently offering it for 20% off.

EVENTS

COVID-19 Guidance and Mental Health Resources for K-12 Schools

The Federal School Safety Clearinghouse is hosting an information webinar on current COVID-19 guidance and resources for schools hosting grades kindergarten through grade 12. It will be hosted on January 20, from 3:00 to 4:00 pm EST on Adobe Connect and will feature guest speakers from the CDC and Mental Health Technology Transfer Network. Presenters will provide attendees with an overview of the guidance and share resources to help address mental health challenges in students, parents, teachers, and school personnel. Register here.

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists- 75th Anniversary Doomsday Clock Announcement

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will host a live virtual news conference at 10:00 am EST on January 20, to announce the 2022 Doomsday Clock time. This year marks the Clock’s 75th anniversary, with it acting as a metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation since 1947. This has served as a call to action in order to move the Clock’s hands backwards, which has happened a total of eight times…though they have moved forward sixteen times. This year’s event will feature Hank Green (science communicator known for his science communication work and appearances on SciShow, Crash Course, and Vlogbrothers), Dr. Rachel Bronson (president and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), Dr. Asha M. George (executive director, Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, and member, Science and Security Board (SASB), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), Dr. Herb Lin (senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and Hank J. Holland Fellow in Cyber Policy and Security at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and member, Science and Security Board (SASB), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), Sharon Squassoni (research professor at the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, Elliott School of International Affairs, at the George Washington University, and co-chair, Science and Security Board (SASB), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), Dr. Scott D. Sagan (Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, the Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) at Stanford University, and member, Science and Security Board (SASB), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), and Dr. Raymond Pierrehumbert (Halley Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, lead author on the IPCC Third Assessment Report, and member, Science and Security Board (SASB), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). More information, including access to links, can be found here.

Stunting the Surge: What Leaders Need to Know for 2022 Pandemic Planning

The Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security is hosting this event on January 25 at 2:00 pm EST. This webinar will feature senior officials from the executive branch who will provide updates and guidance on the Omicron variant and planning considerations for state and local leadership moving into the new year. Panelists include ADM Rachel L. Levine, Dr. Barbara Mahon, Dawn O’Connel, and James Blumenstock. Participants are also encouraged to submit questions in advance! Register here.

CBRN Winter Quarterly Forum

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is virtually hosting their winter CBRN quarterly forum on January 19, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm EST. This event will explore various factors affecting a healthy CBRN industrial base and resilient CBRN supply chain. The workshop is interactive, capitalizing on attendees’ expertise to create recommendations on improving the health and resiliency of the CBRN industrial base and supply chain. Register here.

How are emerging technologies (re)-shaping the security landscape?

King’s College London’s War Studies at 60 seminars continue with the Centre for Science and Security Studies’ panel of global experts addressing the intersection of emerging technology, society, and global order. The expert panel will feature Dr. Hassan Elbahtimy, Sean Ekins, Dr. Filippa Lentzos, Dr. Time Stevens, and Dr. Kathleen M. Vogel. Questions to be addressed include, “How do we identify and assess the opportunities and risks of these advances? What new actors and networks are gaining currency in this space? Do these technologies carry the potential to disrupt the existing order or can they be a tool to stabilise it? How can they be most effectively governed and regulated? And ultimately Do they enhance or undermine peace and security?” This event will take place on January 19 from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm GMT. Register here.