Pandora Report: 8.26.2022

Happy Friday, Pandora Report readers! We are back with a big line up this week. We start off with some updates on monkeypox, COVID-19, CDC and DHS re-organizations, concerns about protecting genomic information, the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, and more. We also discuss a number of new popular and academic publications and a couple new podcast episodes we are listening to. This week also brings a number of upcoming events to look forward to and announcements, including updates to our disinfo page and a fellowship opportunity.

First, Some Good News from OSTP

This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released guidance that will make federally funded research freely available without delay. The White House issued a press release on Thursday reading, “Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) updated U.S. policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost. In a memorandum to federal departments and agencies, Dr. Alondra Nelson, the head of OSTP, delivered guidance for agencies to update their public access policies as soon as possible to make publications and research funded by taxpayers publicly accessible, without an embargo or cost. All agencies will fully implement updated policies, including ending the optional 12-month embargo, no later than December 31, 2025.” This change was made in an effort to further the administration’s goal to “…broaden the potential of the American innovation ecosystem by leveling the playing field for all American innovators, which can help ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in science and technology…” by blocking the current embargo option publishers have to require a subscription to view taxpayer-funded research for a year after publication.

Monkeypox

What’s in a name?

Are monkeys spreading monkeypox to humans? What do we mean by MSMs? Is monkeypox only spreading in the LGBTQ community? Amid violence against monkeys, concerns about public health messaging, and a flurry of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, the discussion of how we name and talk about infectious diseases is once again attracting attention. Andrew Jacobs explains in The New York Times that, “In the three months since the first cases of monkeypox were reported in Europe and the United States, public health experts have been urging the World Health Organization to come up with new nomenclature that might help to clear up any confusion and reduce the shame and stigmatization associated with a disease that has been spreading largely among men who have sex with men.” He also details an open letter from scientists from several countries urging the WHO to move quickly on finding new nomenclature, spearheaded by Dr. Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. “Names matter, and so does scientific accuracy, especially for pathogens and epidemics that we are trying to control,” said Dr. de Oliveira.

The letter also condemned media coverage of the outbreak, “noting that some Western outlets had been using photos of lesion-pocked Africans to illustrate an outbreak that was almost entirely affecting white men. Many articles have also been wrongly describing the virus as “endemic” to Africa, they wrote. In fact, before the current global outbreak, human-to-human transmission in Africa was relatively uncommon, with most infections occurring in rural areas among people who had direct contact with wild animals. “In the context of the current global outbreak, continued reference to, and nomenclature of this virus being African is not only inaccurate but is also discriminatory and stigmatizing,” the authors wrote.”

Déjà Vu x 2

In addition to historical parallels to the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the US, concerns that the US is repeating its COVID-19 mistakes are abounding. Dr. Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor in the Biodefense Program, was recently interviewed by PBS on this topic, cautioning that “We’re seeing a lot of Groundhog Day,” she said. “The lessons we thought we’d learned with COVID haven’t made as much of a difference as we would have liked.” The article explains further that “Health secretaries declared both viruses to be public health emergencies, inviting greater coordination, pushing for more urgent action and freeing up more funding and resources at the federal, state, local and tribal levels. But despite all that, the U.S. response to the monkeypox virus (or MPXV) has been criticized in ways that are hauntingly familiar, said Dr. Saskia Popescu…”

The administration has also been broadly criticized for its strategy to vaccinate more people for monkeypox, with critics highlighting that the plan to stretch the vaccine is actually resulting in fewer vaccinations overall as doses are moved around the country. Politico reported this week that “health officials in half a dozen states told POLITICO that they are routinely able to extract only three or four doses per vial, meaning they were able to vaccinate fewer people last week than if the federal government had made no changes at all because of the drastically reduced allocations,” as opposed to the five they are supposed to be taking from each vial under the administration’s new guidance.

The same article continues to further explains the issue-“In Washington, D.C., which has more monkeypox cases per capita than anywhere in the U.S., health officials anticipated the new dosing strategy — where a smaller amount of vaccine is injected into the outer layer of the skin — would allow them to stretch the 12,000 vials they had been promised to 60,000 doses; instead, they received 2,400 vials, a fifth of the original number. And when the latest vaccine allocation came early this week, they were allotted about 4,000 vials.” With US cases sitting at nearly 17,000 as of August 22, concerns are continuing to grow that time is running out to contain this virus, a concern all too familiar by now.

You Get a Re-Org, You Get a Re-Org, Everyone Gets a Re-Org

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Calls for Re-Organization

The CDC, a 75-year-old organization long respected as the nation’s premier public health agency, is at a crossroads. Following a review initiated in April, the findings of which have yet to be released to the public, the agency announced it will go under a re-organization process. As Brenda Goodman explained last week, “CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky met with senior leadership at the agency this morning to lay out her plans for overhauling how the agency works. She plans to remake the culture to help the agency move faster when it responds to a public health crisis. She also wants to make it easier for other parts of the government to work with the CDC, and wants to simplify and streamline the website to get rid of overlapping and contradictory public health guidance.”

The New York Times quoted Walensky’s statement to the agency’s almost 11,000 employees, in which she said “To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications.” The same article continued, explaining that the CDC “has been criticized for years as being too academic and insular. The coronavirus pandemic brought those failings into public view, with even some of the agency’s staunchest defenders criticizing its response as inept.” The Times also quoted Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health, writing ““Can she do it? I don’t know. Does it absolutely need to be done? Yes. Is it just a reorganization that is required? I don’t think so.”

Department of Homeland Security Announces New Office of Health Security

DHS announced recently that it instituted an overhaul that moved the chief medical officer and many other health-focused staff out of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office and into the newly formed Office of Health Security. “Over the past several years, Americans have faced a series of unprecedented challenges impacting their health security, from the pandemic to natural disasters and more,” saidSecretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “Our Department must be prepared to adapt to an ever-expanding, dynamic, and complex public health threat landscape. The Office of Health Security will lead our efforts to meet that charge.” 

The Office of Health Security, under the direction of DHS’s Chief Medical Officer Pritesh Gandhi, is part of an effort to address disjointed health crisis response policies. The Office will be responsible to “keep the Department of Homeland Security’s workforce healthy, ensure care for thousands of desperate migrants at the border, prepare for the next pandemic,” and even direct veterinary care for the Department’s horses and dogs, according to Bloomberg Government. This comes after a GAO report and concerns that “DHS health policy was getting lost inside the weapons office’s broader mandate to help detect catastrophic threats to the US.”

COVID-19 Updates- Because It’s Definitely Still a Thing

With US roll-out of bivalent COVID-19 vaccines specifically targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants likely on the horizon and cases still averaging over 100,000 per day, it’s clear as ever that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. In case you were starting to get bored with the whole thing, however, we have some new updates from around the world.

China’s Rush to “Prove” COVID-19 Didn’t Start in Its Borders

Nearly three years into the pandemic, the PRC is still working hard to spin the origin story of COVID-19. This time, the Chinese are trying to publish large sums of research that makes it seem impossible that the pandemic started in Wuhan. For example, a pre print hosted on ResearchSquare, “A comprehensive survey of bat sarbecoviruses across China for the origin tracing of SARS-CoV and SARSCoV-2,” claimed to have found zero viruses related to SARS-CoV-2 in tests done in over 17,000 bats across China. While the authors acknowledge this is a surprising result, they claimed that relatives of this virus are “extremely rare” in the country, a conclusion contested by experts in Hong Kong and Australia.

Jon Cohen wrote in Science‘s coverage of this latest pandemic origin disinfo push, “Yet Chinese researchers have published a flurry of papers supporting their government’s “anywhere-but-here” position. Multiple studies report finding no signs of SARS-CoV-2–related viruses or antibodies in bats and other wild and captive animals in China. Others offer clues that the virus hitched a ride to China on imported food or its packaging. On the flip side, Chinese researchers are not pursuing—or at least not publishing—obvious efforts to trace the sources of the mammals sold at the Huanan market, which could yield clues to the virus’ origins.”

He also discusses the idea that spillover likely occurred at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which was recently substantially supported by two publications in Science, writing “Beijing was open to the idea at first. But today it points to myriad ways SARS-CoV-2 could have arrived in Wuhan from abroad, borne by contaminated frozen food or infected foreigners—perhaps at the Military World Games in Wuhan, in October 2019—or released accidentally by a U.S. military lab located more than 12,000 kilometers from Wuhan. Its goal is to avoid being blamed for the pandemic in any way, says Filippa Lentzos, a sociologist at King’s College London who studies biological threats and health security. “China just doesn’t want to look bad,” she says. “They need to maintain an image of control and competence. And that is what goes through everything they do.”

Brazilian Federal Police Call for Jair Bolsonaro to be Charged for False COVID-19 Claims

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, may face charges in regards to spreading false information about COVID-19, which has killed over 680,000 Brazilians to date, reports The Guardian. Tom Phillips explains that, “On Wednesday night a senior federal police investigator was reported to have written to the supreme court asking for Bolsonaro to be questioned and charged with the crime of incitement, when someone encourages another person to commit an offense.” The federal police were ordered to conduct an inquiry into the president’s alleged crimes last December at the end of a congressional inquiry into his handling of the pandemic.

The police report focuses on an October 2021 broadcast since removed by YouTube and Facebook, Bolsonaro claimed that face masks were responsible for many deaths during the 1918 flu pandemic. “[The president] in a direct, spontaneous and conscious manner disseminated the disinformation that victims of the Spanish flu had in fact died as a result of bacterial pneumonia caused by the use of masks, instilling in viewers’ minds a veritable disincentive to their use in the fight against Covid at a time when the use of masks was compulsory,” the police report said.” Bolsonaro has also promoted “cures” like hydroxychloroquine despite mounting evidence against its use for treating COVID-19 and claimed that studies in the UK found links between COVID-19 vaccinations and people developing HIV/AIDS “much faster than expected,” a claim British officials have summarily rejected.

UK Biobank and China’s Access to Foreign Genetic Information

UK Biobank, a long-term biobank study in the United Kingdom “investigating the respective contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure (including nutrition, lifestyle, medications etc.) to the development of disease,” was recently urged to reconsider how it handles information transfers for medical research. The Guardian reports, “Rising political and security tensions between Beijing and the west have prompted calls for a review of the transfer of genetic data to China from a biomedical database containing the DNA of half a million UK citizens. The UK Biobank said it had about 300 projects under which researchers in China were accessing “detailed genetic information” or other health data on volunteers. The anonymised data is shared under an open-access policy for use in studies into diseases from cancer to depression. There is no suggestion it has been misused or participants’ privacy compromised.”

Commenting on this issue, KCL’s Professor Jonathan Adams said there are “huge potential returns from having a good, positive, open relationship” with China but that current relationships relied “far too much on things like formal agreements, which we believe will protect things in a way they would if we were working with conventional partners”. “China is different. It’s transformed into a public research culture over a very short period, and the norms we expect are not necessarily universally adopted. My concern is that what gets published in English would be the bit above water that you can see.”

This case and others like it echo last year’s warnings from the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center cautioning Americans to “Understand that all entities in the PRC, including commercial, research, and scientific, are required by law to share information with the PRC state security apparatus,” and that “Genomic technology used to design disease therapies tailored to an individual also can be used to identify genetic vulnerabilities in a population.” Similar concerns were raised over BGI Group (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) and their NIFTY prenatal test. Kirsty Needham and Clare Baldwin explain that “U.S. government advisors warned in March that a vast bank of genomic data that the company, BGI Group, is amassing and analyzing with artificial intelligence could give China a path to economic and military advantage. As science pinpoints new links between genes and human traits, access to the biggest, most diverse set of human genomes is a strategic edge. The technology could propel China to dominate global pharmaceuticals, and also potentially lead to genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the U.S. population or food supply, the advisors said.”

Ninth Anniversary of Ghouta Chemical Attack

Mohamad Katoub recently wrote in Syria Direct that, “Sunday marked the ninth anniversary of the Ghouta chemical massacre on August 21, 2013. The attack claimed the lives of at least 1,347 people in the East and West Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, and injured more than 10,626 others, more than two-thirds of whom were children and women. Every year, Syrians keep its memory alive, bringing the events and pain of that day back to the forefront.” In recognition of this anniversary, the Syrian Network for Human Rights recently released its report (“The Ninth Anniversary of the Largest Chemical Weapons Attack by the Syrian Regime against Syrian Citizens in the Two Ghoutas of Damascus”) discussing the chemical weapons attack on the Two Ghoutas, al-Assad and others’ responsibility for the attack, and current efforts to bring the regime back into the Arab League. This and other attacks are further documented on Don’t Suffocate Truth’s website, which features an interactive page on the attacks and translations of witnesses’ testimonies.

Infographic source: https://donotsuffocatetruth.com/en/infographics/17#infographic

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station

This week, Russian shelling near the Zaporizhzhia NPP sparked fires in ash pits of a coal power station nearby, disconnecting the nuclear facility from the power grid, sparking concerns about the facility. As of this morning, the Zaporizhzhia NPP is still reported to be disconnected from the country’s power grid, having previously been disconnected for the first time just one day prior. “The station’s own needs for power supply are currently provided through a repaired line from the energy system of Ukraine,” Energoatom, the National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine, said today. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that the plant’s backup diesel generators were “immediately activated” avoiding “the consequences of a radiation accident.” He also stated, “The world must understand what a threat this is: If the diesel generators hadn’t turned on, if the automation and our staff of the plant had not reacted after the blackout, then we would already be forced to overcome the consequences of the radiation accident,” during his nightly address.

“Almost every day there is a new incident at or near the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. We can’t afford to lose any more time. I’m determined to personally lead an IAEA mission to the plant in the next few days to help stabilize the nuclear safety and security situation there,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement.

In response to this situation, a bipartisan group of nonproliferation experts signed a letter to President Biden urging the administration to “prioritize responding to Russia’s illegal seizure and mistreatment of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and its staff.” The letter reads in part, “We urge you to work closely with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, UN Secretary-General Guterres, and IAEA Director General Grossi to secure an IAEA visit based on the agency’s long record of impartiality and neutrality. We agree with your ambassador to the IAEA, Laura S.H. Holgate, that such a visit should “occur in a manner that fully respects Ukrainian sovereignty and legitimate Ukrainian authorities, and the IAEA must not lend any legitimacy to Russia’s actions or control of the site.” The experts who signed the letter include GMU Biodefense Program Director Dr. Gregory Koblentz and several others across government, academia, NGOs and IGOs, and the private sector.

“Her Discovery Changed the World. How Does She Think We Should Use It?”

Jennifer Doudna, an American biochemist, won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on CRISPR gene editing technology. But, as David Marchese explains in The New York Times Magazine, “Since 2012, when Doudna and her colleagues shared the findings of work they did on editing bacterial genes, the 58-year-old has become a leading voice in the conversation about how we might use CRISPR — uses that could, and probably will, include tweaking crops to become more drought resistant, curing genetically inheritable medical disorders and, most controversial, editing human embryos. “It’s a little scary, quite honestly,” Doudna says about the possibilities of our CRISPR future. “But it’s also quite exciting.” Marchese’s article includes the text of an interview with Dr. Doudna discussing ethical concerns about this technology and what it means for the future.

For more on security concerns surrounding CRISPR, check out GMU’s own Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley‘s award-winning paper, “From CRISPR babies to super soldiers: challenges and security threats posed by CRISPR“.

“Is Your Government Ready for Another Pandemic?”

Statista’s Anna Fleck recently covered a 2021 OECD survey that found just how greatly perceptions of government preparedness for health crises vary globally. She writes, “According to the report, public trust in government rise and fell throughout the pandemic, with a show of support for governments at the start, versus later when the death count started to rise. The authors note that the survey’s results likely correspond to the intensity of the pandemic at the time, in November 2021. They add: “It is also worth noting that – in spite of the many challenges governments faced in effectively responding to the economic and health exigencies of the pandemic – this finding suggests that people see governments as having learned from the information gained during this experience.””

“FDA’s Work to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic”

The FDA released this report last month discussing its work during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering vaccines, pharmaceutical, devices (including tests and PPE), resilient supply chains, advanced manufacturing and innovation, inspections, investigations, import, and fraud, and crosscutting research. The report includes details of the massive undertakings of the administration during this crisis while also paying attention to how it is preparing for future health emergencies.

“A “Knife Fight” with the FDA: The Trump White House’s Relentless Attacks on FDA’s Coronavirus Response”

Speaking of the FDA, the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis recently published this staff report discussing key findings of their investigation into the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report is divided into three sections-“Trump White House officials orchestrated coordinated pressure campaigns to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine and expand its use after it was shown to be ineffective and potentially dangerous,” “The Trump administration’s push to authorize convalescent plasma on the eve of the Republican National Convection,” and “The Trump White House attempted to derail FDA’s vaccine guidance ahead of the presidential election and pressed Commissioner Hahn on vaccine authorization.” Major findings include:

  1. “Senior Trump White House Adviser Peter Navarro Exerted Inappropriate Pressure on FDA to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine as a Coronavirus Treatment After It Was Shown to Be Ineffective and Potentially Dangerous”
  2. “Trump White House Officials Covertly Worked with Outside Groups to Attempt to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine and to Fund Clinical Trials to Justify Its Use”
  3. “Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Forged Close Alliances and Coordinated Secretively with Outside Allies—Including Known Conspiracy Theorists—to Amplify External Pressure on FDA to Reauthorize Hydroxychloroquine”
  4. “Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Took Steps to Conceal the White House’s Involvement in Mobilizing External Support for Hydroxychloroquine––Including Conducting Official Business with Private Email Accounts”
  5. “Mr. Navarro and Dr. Hatfill Aggressively Attacked Dr. Fauci, Dr. Hahn, and Other Public Health Officials Who Refused to Support Hydroxychloroquine—and Pushed for Them to Be Federally Investigated”
  6. “In the Days Leading Up to the Republican National Convention, President Trump Expressed “Dismay” About Perceived Delays in an EUA for Convalescent Plasma, While the White House Hastily Convened a Press Conference that Grossly Misstated the Data,” and
  7. “Trump Administration Political Appointees Blocked FDA Coronavirus Vaccine EUA Guidance Due to “Objections” Over How It Would Impact the Authorization Timeline Ahead of the Presidential Election”

“Public Health Preparedness: COIVD-19 Medical Surge Experiences and Related HHS Efforts”

The Government Accountability Office recently released this report on the Department of Health and Human Services’ support to health care coalitions designed to help manage medical surges. The report finds that: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of hospitals’ abilities to evaluate and care for an increased volume of patients exceeding normal operating capacity, known as medical surge. All eight hospitals in GAO’s review reported multiple challenges related to staff, supplies, space, or information. These are critical components for an effective medical surge response, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). All eight hospitals reported staffing challenges, such as a lack of staff to care for the increase in sick patients or staff becoming ill and unable to work, affecting hospital services. Hospitals took steps to address these challenges, such as supplementing staffing levels where possible or training staff on proper personal protective equipment use to prevent infection. Health care coalitions—groups of health care and response organizations in a defined geographic location supported by HHS funding—aided hospitals. For example, they helped coordinate patient transfers to balance hospital loads, obtain and distribute needed medical supplies, and communicate hospital needs to their states.”

The findings continued, explaining that “HHS has programs and activities underway intended to support medical surge readiness for hospitals and other health care organizations, but it is too soon to know the effectiveness of these efforts. For example, HHS implemented a new medical surge exercise for coalitions in 2021 to test readiness, and plans to establish targets to measure performance. It is also considering how to use the findings and lessons learned from its 2021 assessment of coalitions during the pandemic to improve its support of coalitions and their communities. HHS is also funding the development of a regional disaster health response system, which aims to develop effective approaches to medical surge response across multiple states. This includes improving data sharing on resource and capacity issues, and developing specialized teams that can respond to a range of hazards. HHS is considering its next steps regarding the expansion of this regional system. Further, HHS is developing regional guidelines for hospitals and other facilities related to treating patients and increasing medical surge capacity during public health emergencies as required by statute. Officials did not provide a date for when the guidelines would be made publicly available.”

“Mapping Biosafety Level-3 Laboratories by Publications”

Researchers at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology recently published this report, explaining “Biosafety Level-3 laboratories (BSL-3) are an essential part of research infrastructure and are used to develop vaccines and therapies. The research conducted in them provides insights into host-pathogen interactions that may help prevent future pandemics. However, these facilities also potentially pose a risk to society through lab accidents or misuse. Despite their importance, there is no comprehensive list of BSL-3 facilities, or the institutions in which they are housed. By systematically assessing PubMed articles published in English from 2006-2021, this paper maps institutions that host BSL-3 labs by their locations, augmenting current knowledge of where high-containment research is conducted globally.”

“Prototype Pathogen Approach for Vaccine and Monoclonal Antibody Development: A Critical Component of the NIAID Plan for Pandemic Preparedness”

The Journal of Infectious Diseases recently published this article from Cassetti et al. discussing the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ emphasis on priority pathogens, technology platforms, and prototype pathogens in its pandemic preparedness plan. Their abstract reads: “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 1 (SARS-CoV-1) emerged 20 years ago, presaging a series of subsequent infectious disease epidemics of international concern. The recent emergence of SARS-CoV-2 has underscored the importance of targeted preparedness research to enable rapid countermeasure development during a crisis. In December 2021 the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), building upon the successful strategies developed during the SARS-CoV-2 response and to prepare for future pandemics, published a pandemic preparedness plan that outlined a research strategy focused on priority pathogens, technology platforms, and prototype pathogens. To accelerate the discovery, development, and evaluation of medical countermeasures against new or previously unknown pathogens of pandemic potential, we present here a strategy of research directed at select prototype pathogens. In this manner, leveraging a prototype pathogen approach may serve as a powerful cornerstone in biomedical research preparedness to protect public health from newly emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.”

What We’re Listening To 🎧

The Retort Episode 1: A History of Chemical and Biological Disarmament

Brett Edwards has done it again! When he’s not cranking out new episodes of the Poisons and Pestilence Podcast, he’s doing other fascinating work, including this first episode of the Retort focused on the BWC and CWC. In anticipation of BWC RevCon later this year, this episode covers the history of these two disarmament treaties. This work is done in conjunction with the Biological Security Research Centre at London Metropolitan University as well.

Public Health on Call 509 – The Threat of Polio

Following the first case of paralytic polio in New York in decades, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s “Olakunle Alonge, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins, who’s worked on polio eradication efforts around the world, speaks to John Sharfstein about what’s behind the rise in cases and how the world can defeat polio–forever,” in this latest podcast episode.

2022 BSL4ZNet International Conference

The Biosafety Level 4 Zoonotic Laboratory Network is hosting its international conference virtually this year from September 8 through October 13. The conference will convene under the overarching theme of Forging ahead stronger: Strengthening zoonotic disease preparedness. The conference aims to enhance knowledge and best practices, and promote collaboration and cooperation with participants from around the world. Session 4 on October 13 will feature a panel on “The Future of Global Biorisk Management” featuring our own Dr. Greg Koblentz alongside King’s College London’s Dr. Filippa Lentzos and Mayra Ameneiros, Dr. Rocco Casagrande of Gryphon Scientific, and Dr. Loren Matheson of Defence Research and Development Canada. Learn more and register for the conference here.

Accelerating the Development & Uptake of Rapid Diagnostics to Address Antibiotic Resistance

This upcoming workshop, convened by the National Academies’ Forum on Drug Discovery, Development, and Translation; the Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness for Disasters and Emergencies; and the Forum on Microbial Threats will provide a venue for stakeholders to discuss the current landscape of rapid diagnostics to address antibiotic resistance, consider challenges and opportunities for spurring innovation, and discuss practical next steps for accelerating the development of new diagnostic tools. The workshop will be held October 13-14. Learn more and register here.

A Fireside Chat with Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Join the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security on Tuesday, August 30, at 4 pm ET, for a fireside chat with Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tom Inglesby, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Julie Gerberding, CEO of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) and co-chair of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, will host and moderate a discussion reflecting on the CDC’s critical role in pandemic preparedness and response, at home and abroad. As part of that, Dr. Walensky will offer details on recently announced plans for major internal reforms to strengthen CDC’s future performance. Watch and register here.

Event Recording-Monkeypox: The State of the Science

Get insights into the state of the science of monkeypox, the disease’s epidemiology, prevention options and more in this August 18 webinar recording from the American Public Health Association and the National Academy of Medicine. Available here.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Editorial Fellowships Application Now Open

The Bulletin is now accepting application for its editorial fellows through September 15. “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will appoint editorial fellows this fall in two coverage areas: climate change and biosecurity. Editorial fellows will have one-year terms, during which time they will be expected to write four (4) articles or columns (i.e., about one article or column per quarter). The fellows will be paid a $750 honorarium per article or column, for a potential total of $3,000. These will be non-resident appointments, i.e. fellows can write for the Bulletin from anywhere. Fellows will not be employees of the Bulletin. These one-year fellowships are renewable, upon excellent performance. Because the Bulletin is an international publication, fellows need not live in the United States.” Learn more and apply here.

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:

Polygraph.info- “Putin’s Patently Bogus Claim About the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant”

Leonid Martynyuk discusses the misleading nature of Putin’s statement that “The regular strikes on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant by the Ukrainian military create the danger of a major nuclear disaster that could lead to radiation contamination of vast territories,” in this latest work on Polygraph.info.

Foreign Policy– “Kremlin Claims Monkeypox Could Be a Secret U.S. Bioweapon”

Ivana Stradner discusses Russia’s latest claims in its disinfo-war, writing “The Kremlin has been spinning this coincidence to build an elaborate monkeypox disinformation campaign. The head of the Russian defense ministry’s radiation, chemical, and biological defense troops, Igor Kirillov, implied that monkeypox could have originated in a U.S.-funded Nigerian biolab. Russian media also reported that, according to Kirillov, “Ukraine’s biological laboratories were connected to the Pentagon’s infection system”—whatever that means. Russian media have claimed that a “hasty withdrawal” of U.S. personnel from Ukrainian labs could have led to workers contracting the disease. There is no causal evidence for any of this, but the combination of these bits and pieces on a timeline, then widely disseminated by various media, has the effect of burying the truth under a heap of disinformation.”

Pandora Report: 8.12.2022

Happy Friday! In yet another interesting week, Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 while Bavarian Nordic’s CEO expressed concerns over the United States’ plans to split JYNNEOS doses into fifths. We also have new publications to discuss, including a new GAO report that found the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s ability to regulate the sale and procurement of dangerous materials is sub-par and new work on biological threat mis- and disinformation.

North Korea Declares “Brilliant Victory” Over COVID-19

Kim Jong Un spoke at the DPRK’s National Meeting of Reviewing Emergency Anti-Epidemic Work this week, declaring victory in the “maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign to exterminate the novel coronavirus that had made in-roads into our territory and in protecting the lives and health of the people.” He also announced that public health efforts would return to “ordinary levels,” though he stressed avoiding complacency.

However, as the country lacks vaccine access, this claim is viewed with heavy skepticism. The New York Times writes, “​Outside experts have cast doubt on the North’s ​Covid-related claims, including its past assertions that it had no cases. The figures it has released since May have also been viewed with skepticism, in part because the isolated, impoverished country does not have enough testing kits or laboratories to accurately track a major outbreak.​” NYT also highlights that, “According to the Thursday report, Mr. Kim said all the Covid patients identified by his government had been diagnosed with ​the Omicron subvariant BA.2. Though North Korea has reported 4.7 million cases of people developing a high fever during the outbreak,​ it has never said how many were confirmed Covid-19 infections.”

Source: Rodong Sinmun; Kim Jong Un speaking at the National Meeting of Reviewing Emergency Anti-Epidemic Work this week

Furthermore, in another odd attempt to present Kim Jong Un as having suffered alongside his people, his sister, Kim Yo Jong, gave a speech in which she said her brother had a “high fever” over the course of the outbreak, implying he caught COVID-19. She also claimed that even though her brother was supposedly seriously ill, he “could not lie down for a moment because of the people he had to take care of,” as those in the audience cried politely.

She also blamed South Korea for the virus’s arrival in the North, building upon prior DPRK claims that the South is using “alien things” and leaflets to bring COVID-19 to the North. She also stated that this represents a human rights violation on the part of the ROK. Rodong Sinmun summarized her speech, which reads in part, “It is an undeniable fact that a single person or a single object infected with the highly contagious virus may infect many other people in a moment and cause a grave health crisis. From this scientific view, we come to draw a conclusion that we can no longer overlook the uninterrupted influx of rubbish from south Korea,” “What matters is the fact that the south Korean puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” and “The south Korean puppets are, indeed, the invariable principal enemy of us and the fundamental factor that determines victory and failure of the revolutionary struggle is class consciousness.”

United States Announces Plan to Split JYNNEOS Doses

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its plan to allow intradermal injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine, allowing clinicians to use one-fifth of the normal amount of vaccine per patient to help conserve national supply. “This is a game changer in our response and our ability to get ahead of the virus, we encourage jurisdictions to use the dosing as soon as possible,” said Bob Fenton, head of the national monkeypox response team. Fenton explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will begin sending educational materials to clinicians today explaining how to administer intradermal vaccines. The administration is similar to that of a tuberculosis test,” writes CIDRAP. This plan will allow the remaining 441,000 doses the US has to become nearly 2 million doses.

However, Paul Chaplin, the CEO of Bavarian Nordic, voiced concerns about the United States’ plan to split his company’s vaccine. The Washington Post reported shortly after the HHS announcement that, “The manufacturer of the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against monkeypox privately warned senior Biden health officials about their plan to split doses and change how the shots are delivered. “We do have some reservations … due to the very limited safety data available,” Bavarian Nordic CEO Paul Chaplin wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert M. Califf in a letter sent Tuesday and obtained by The Washington Post.”

“Addressing Inaccurate and Misleading Information About Biological Threats Through Scientific Collaboration and Communication in Southeast Asia”

This new report, co-authored by Biodefense Program faculty member Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, was recently released by the National Academies. The authors write, “Misinformation about outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics is a decades-old problem that has been exacerbated by the rise of the internet and the widespread use of social media. Some false claims may be addressed through sound scientific analysis, suggesting that scientists can help counter misinformation by providing evidence-based, scientifically defensible information that may discredit or refute these claims. This report explains how scientists can work collaboratively across scientific disciplines and sectors to identify and address inaccuracies that could fuel mis- and disinformation. Although the study focused on a scientific network primarily in Southeast Asia, it is relevant to scientists in other parts of the world. A companion “how-to-guide”, available in print and in digital form, outlines practical steps that scientists can take to assess mis- or disinformation, determine whether and how they should address it, and effectively communicate the corrective information they develop.”

“Molecular, Ecological and Behavioral Drivers of the Bat-Virus Relationship”

iScience recently published this in-depth review of what is known currently about the relationship between bats and viruses. Gonzalez and Banerjee write, “Bats perform important ecological roles in our ecosystem. However, recent studies have demonstrated that bats are reservoirs of emerging viruses that have spilled over into humans and agricultural animals to cause severe diseases. These viruses include Hendra and Nipah paramyxoviruses, Ebola and Marburg filoviruses, and coronaviruses that are closely related to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and the recently emerged SARS-CoV-2. Intriguingly, bats that are naturally or experimentally infected with these viruses do not show clinical signs of disease. Here we have reviewed ecological, behavioral, and molecular factors that may influence the ability of bats to harbor viruses. We have summarized known zoonotic potential of bat-borne viruses and stress on the need for further studies to better understand the evolutionary relationship between bats and their viruses, along with discovering the intrinsic and external factors that facilitate the successful spillover of viruses from bats.”

“Preventing a Dirty Bomb: Vulnerabilities Persist in NRC’s Controls for Purchases of High-Risk Radioactive Materials”

Bryant Harris writes in DefenseNews, “Late last year, government employees forged a copy of a license to buy hazardous, radioactive material. They created shell companies, then placed orders, generated invoices and paid two U.S.-based vendors. The scheme worked. The employees successfully had the material shipped, complete with radioactive stickers on the side, then confirmed delivery. But the workers were actually investigators from the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, and they were testing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s ability to regulate the sale and procurement of dangerous materials.”

That GAO report, “Preventing a Dirty Bomb: Vulnerabilities Persist in NRC’s Controls for Purchases of High-Risk Radioactive Materials”, is attracting congressional attention and calls for overhauls at NRC. GAO’s report finds that: “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) current system for verifying licenses does not adequately protect against the purchase of high-risk radioactive materials using a fraudulent license. Licenses control the type and quantity of radioactive material allowed to be possessed. Quantities of radioactive materials are defined as category 1 through 5, with 1 being the most dangerous. Using shell companies with fraudulent licenses, GAO successfully purchased a category 3 quantity of radioactive material of concern from two different vendors in the U.S. Specifically, GAO provided a copy of a license that GAO forged to two vendors, subsequently obtained invoices, and paid the vendors. GAO refused to accept shipment at the point of delivery, ensuring that the material was safely and securely returned to the sender.


As GAO has previously reported, a category 3 quantity of radioactive material can, on its own, result in billions of dollars of socioeconomic costs if dispersed using a dirty bomb. By purchasing more than one shipment of a category 3 quantity of radioactive material, GAO also demonstrated that a bad actor might be able to obtain a category 2 quantity by purchasing and aggregating more than one category 3 quantity from multiple vendors. NRC officials told GAO that NRC plans to proceed with existing initiatives to implement new verification regulations by late 2023 but does not plan to take immediate corrective actions to address the issues that GAO found.”

Regional Perspectives on Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Lessons from the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Enterprise Project

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is pleased to present a side event at the 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) focused on sharing regional perspectives on strengthening the NPT. The session will present insights from NTI’s Global Enterprise project, which has convened officials and experts for a series of discussions in recent years aimed at developing concrete measures to advance the goals of the NPT. The project has also held three meetings – one in Brazil in 2019, one in Ghana in 2020, and one in Indonesia in 2022 – dedicated to understanding how different regions view the NPT and considering regional challenges and priorities for nonproliferation, nuclear risk reduction, and disarmament, as well as opportunities for cooperation. The side event will feature an overview of the Global Enterprise project and a  moderated discussion with a panel comprised of one participant from each of the three regional meetings.

The event will take place on August 15, 2022 from 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 PM in CR-4 and will also be available via livestream on UN Web TV. Sign up to receive the livestream link here.

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Pandora Report: 8.5.2022

This week we cover monkeypox updates, the WHO’s reporting on healthcare in Ukraine, and the planned BWC consultative meeting following Russia’s invocation of Article V of the convention. We also cover new publications, upcoming events, monkeypox debunkings, and our RSS feed. Have a safe weekend!

Monkeypox- US Declares Public Health Emergency Amid Lagging Response

This week, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared monkeypox a public health emergency, seeking to improve response efforts as the outbreak passes 7,100 cases in the US alone. President Biden also selected a White House monkeypox coordinator-Robert Fenton, who is currently a regional administrator with FEMA and has twice served as the acting FEMA administrator. However, many view this as too little too late as concerns about vaccine access continue to rage.

The New York Times writes this week, “The shortage of vaccines to combat a fast-growing monkeypox outbreak was caused in part because the Department of Health and Human Services failed early on to ask that bulk stocks of the vaccine it already owned be bottled for distribution, according to multiple administration officials familiar with the matter. By the time the federal government placed its orders, the vaccine’s Denmark-based manufacturer, Bavarian Nordic, had booked other clients and was unable to do the work for months, officials said — even though the federal government had invested well over $1 billion in the vaccine’s development.”

The same article goes on to explain that the US government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, despite estimates that 3.5 million are needed to contain the outbreak. It also does not expect the next delivery of 500,000 doses until October, and the other 5.5 million the US has ordered will not be delivered until next year as Bavarian Nordic nears the planned closure of its European production plant for part of this year. As the US has invested nearly $2 billion in this vaccine, this is a major point of concern for critics. The US also has ACAM2000 in its stockpile, a vaccine licensed for smallpox that, like JYNNEOS, can also be used for monkeypox, however additional paperwork and criteria are required, and its side effects can be severe for those who are immunocompromised or have certain conditions.

Worse yet, particularly with this manufacturing plant closure, many countries will be dependent on high-income countries donating vaccines to help them contain the spread of monkeypox. However, the surprise of this outbreak has in large part been defined by the silencing of those who have experience with monkeypox from working in places where it is endemic, helping cast serious doubt that any serious improvements in vaccine equity will have been made in the last few years. For example, NPR recently published an article on Dr. Dimie Ogoina’s experience with the disease in late 2017 in Nigeria, and that outbreak’s role in the current crisis.

Source: CDC Public Health Image Library. This digitally-colorized electron microscopic (EM) image depicted monkeypox virus particles, obtained from a clinical sample associated with the 2003 prairie dog outbreak. It was a thin section image from of a human skin sample. On the left were mature, oval-shaped virus particles, and on the right were the crescents, and spherical particles of immature virions.

WHO’s Response to Russia’s War in Ukraine

The WHO recently released an interim report on the organization’s response to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, discussing core objectives, refugee management, planning, and funding and partnerships. This comes as the WHO’s Ukraine emergency coordinator, Heather Papowitz, was quoted earlier this week explaining that healthcare teams in Ukraine are likely used to working with shellings going on outside their facilities, offering a stark reminder that this horror is far from over. In fact, of the 615 attacks on healthcare facilities tracked by the Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care this year, 434 of those have occurred in Ukraine. WHO’s most recent situation report on the matter also confirms there have been 9.9 million border crossings, 6.1 million refugees recorded across Europe, 6.3 million internally displaced, 12,272 civilian casualties, and 5,237 civilian deaths since Russia’s invasion earlier this year.

WHO also reports that, “WHO has supported the health response in Ukraine by providing, among other things: training on COVID-19, chemical preparedness and response and mass casualty management; technical expertise on the national immunization strategy; trauma and burn kits, and support for medical evacuation (medevac) after the attacks on Vinnytsya; technical expertise on environmental health issues, including water-related preparedness and response measures, in view of a potential cholera outbreak”

Russia Requests BWC Consultative Meeting, SCO Issues Joint Statement on the BWC

In related UN news, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs released a statement and document regarding Russia’s June 29 request for the convening of a formal consultative meeting under Article V of the BWC and the Final Declarations of the Convention’s Second and Third Review Conferences. In a July 28 letter from Ambassador Aidan Liddle of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it is determined that the meeting will be opened on August 26 for a brief procedural meeting before resuming on September 5 for four days. Ambassador Gyorgy Molnar of Hungary will chair the consultative meeting. Russia’s invocation of Article V is the first time this has been done since the Cubans accused the US of spraying Thrips palmi on its crops in 1997, a fact that is discussed alongside analysis of Russia’s lead-up to using this rare diplomatic procedure by Filippa Lentzos and Jez Littlewood in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

On July 29, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) issued a joint statement on the BWC. The SCO is comprised of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, in addition to several observers and dialog partners. However, India was not part of the joint statement. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the PRC MFA stated the PRC’s position on the SCO’s statement, saying “The joint statement affirms the significance of the BWC for international security, emphasizes the need to comply with and strengthen the Convention, calls for resuming negotiations on a verification protocol, and expresses concern over the absence of a verification mechanism under the BWC framework. The statement expresses support for a balance between security and development and upholding all countries’ lawful rights to the peaceful use of biotechnology. It also notes the initiatives proposed by various parties to enhance global biosecurity governance, including the call by Russia and China to include information on the overseas military biological activities by the BWC States Parties in the reporting form, the Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists put forward by China, and the creation of an International Agency for Biological Safety proposed by Kazakhstan. This joint statement fully demonstrates the parties’ sense of responsibility and firm resolve to practice true multilateralism and strengthen global biosecurity governance.

Biosecurity bears on the security and development interests of all countries. When putting forward the Global Security Initiative, President Xi Jinping stressed that we need to jointly maintain world peace and security and work together on global challenges such as biosecurity. The BWC Ninth Review Conference will be held at the end of this year. The international community should work in concert for a substantive conference to strengthen the BWC mechanisms and ensure universal compliance. We stand ready to work together with all parties to further advance dialogue and cooperation on biosecurity under the SCO framework, strengthen the BWC mechanisms, and improve the global biosecurity governance system.”

“As Bioweapons Negotiators Prepare to Meet Amid a Pandemic and Torrents of Disinformation, Can They Accomplish Anything?”

Biodefense PhD Program alumnus Yong-Bee Lim recently authored this piece for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists discussing the current state of the BWC, main challenges, and potential outcomes at the BWC Review Conference later this year. He writes in part, “On the other hand, the meeting could end with tangible progress on major priorities. Treaty members could agree to form working groups to discuss thorny issues like assuring compliance with the treaty or even sanction negotiations around these issues. The United States, Russia, and China have each suggested interest in strengthening compliance mechanisms within the treaty, after negotiations around a verification protocol fell apart in 2001. “The three countries have different visions, but share the idea of having specialized working groups explore how to strengthen and revitalize the treaty.” Littlewood and biosecurity expert Filippa Lentzos wrote in the Bulletin in March.”

“Adrienne Mayor on Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs”

Check out this work form Princeton University Press with Adrienne Mayor answering questions about her book, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs, including her motivations for writing about CBW in the ancient world and what to expect from the new revised edition.

“A Better Way to Detect the Origins of a Pandemic”

Angela Kane and Jaime Yassif tackle pandemic origin debates during times of international conflict and uncertainty in their new piece for Arms Control Today. They write, “To meet this need, it will be important to bolster the capabilities of the United Nations to investigate the origins of high-consequence biological events. This includes strengthening and investing significantly more resources in existing capabilities such as the UN Secretary-General’s Mechanism for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons, which has the authority to investigate allegations of deliberate biological weapons use.”

Regional Perspectives on Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Lessons from the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Global Enterprise Project

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), with the support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is pleased to present a side event at the 10th Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) focused on sharing regional perspectives on strengthening the NPT. The session will present insights from NTI’s Global Enterprise project, which has convened officials and experts for a series of discussions in recent years aimed at developing concrete measures to advance the goals of the NPT. The project has also held three meetings – one in Brazil in 2019, one in Ghana in 2020, and one in Indonesia in 2022 – dedicated to understanding how different regions view the NPT and considering regional challenges and priorities for nonproliferation, nuclear risk reduction, and disarmament, as well as opportunities for cooperation. The side event will feature an overview of the Global Enterprise project and a  moderated discussion with a panel comprised of one participant from each of the three regional meetings.

The event will take place on August 15, 2022 from 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 PM in CR-4 and will also be available via livestream on UN Web TV. Sign up to receive the livestream link here.

RSS Feed

For those of you who have asked, the Pandora Report does have an RSS feed: https://pandorareport.org/feed. This should work in any RSS feed reader!

Disinformation Resources-Monkeypox Edition!

It’s the gift that keeps on giving, even when you desperately wish it would stop! We have now added a monkeypox section to our running list of disinformation resources, so you can find updates here on the site or at the end of the weekly issue.

Polygraph.info- “There is No Evidence Monkeypox is a Bioweapon”

William Echols tackles online claims, including those of Dr. Meryl Nass and Children’s Health Defense, that the current monkeypox outbreak is the result of a biological weapon in this piece. Echols also discusses USG’s approving of JYNNEOS in 2019 and current claims that this is evidence the current outbreak is the result of an intentional release.

Pandora Report: 7.29.2022

This week we bring more updates on monkeypox and discuss two new publications in Science that indicate SARS-CoV-2 very likely originated in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. We also cover other new publications, upcoming events, and the launch of ASPR TRACIE’s new DASH tool.

Monkeypox Updates

WHO Declares Monkeypox PHEIC, US Cities Declare Local Health Emergencies

The global monkeypox case count has now reached 21,148 cases, with 20,804 of those in countries that have not historically reported monkeypox. In total, 78 countries are reporting cases, with only seven of them having historically done so. This weekend, the World Health Organization officially declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), in an effort to heighten global alarm and improve response efforts. Max Kozlov explains in Nature, “In an unprecedented move, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the PHEIC on 23 July, after a panel of advisers failed to come to a consensus. Although the panel doesn’t formally vote, six members were in favour of declaring a PHEIC, while nine were against, Tedros said at a press conference announcing his decision. The panel had previously met in late June, but at that time only three members were for declaring a PHEIC and 11 were opposed, so Tedros decided against sounding the alarm at the time.”

As of July 28, the US is tracking 4,906 monkeypox cases, making it the highest case count in a non-endemic country, surpassing Spain and the United Kingdom. According to CIDRAP, “Almost all US patients (99%) have experienced a rash, while 70% have reported malaise, 64% fever, and 63% swollen lymph nodes.” In absence of a federal emergency declaration, US cities are considering declaring their own health emergencies. For example, San Francisco declared a local health emergency that will go into effect on Monday. It is a legal action that will ideally help city departments to mobilize against monkeypox more effectively. The State of New York’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, declared an imminent threat to public health recently, citing the rapid spread of the virus. “This declaration means that local health departments engaged in response and prevention activities will be able to access additional State reimbursement, after other Federal and State funding sources are maximized, to protect all New Yorkers and ultimately limit the spread of monkeypox in our communities,” she said in a statement.

Vaccine and Testing Access Remain Limited

These declarations come as the Biden administration is under fire for what many view as a sluggish response to monkeypox and concerns that the window of opportunity to contain the virus is rapidly closing. Specifically, nearly 800,000 doses of vaccine were held as the FDA completed a review of them and, earlier, as the virus spread in New York and other communities, 300,000 doses owned by the US sat in a facility in Denmark waiting to be shipped. Though US federal agencies helped develop the JYNNEOS vaccine, the Strategic National Stockpile held just a few thousand doses initially. As this vaccine is produced by a small company in Denmark, Bavarian Nordic, access to this specific vaccine has been constrained.

The US had a much larger supply of another smallpox vaccine that can be used for monkeypox under an Expanded Access Investigational New Drug application-ACAM2000. However, ACAM2000 shouldn’t be used in people who have things like different immunodeficiency diseases, certain skin conditions, or who are currently pregnant. The immune response takes about 14 days from the second dose of JYNNEOS (taken four weeks after the first dose), as opposed to the four weeks it takes after ACAM2000 (which is just one dose). JYNNEOS in an attenuated live virus vaccine and is replication-deficient, whereas ACAM2000 is replication-competent and uses the vaccinia virus, which can cause serious complications for some, especially those who are immunocompromised.

“We believe we have done everything we can at the federal level to work with our state and local partners and communities affected to make sure we can stay ahead of this and end this outbreak,” Xavier Becerra, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters on a call. NPR writes that he also “added that local health officials “must do their part. … We don’t have the authority to tell them what to do.””

Some at the local and state level argue that HHS does not understand the full breadth or severity of this crisis. New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC have now stopped scheduling appointments for second Jynneos doses, citing limited supplies and a desire to get first doses into more people. CIDRAP writes, “The CDC maintains that two doses of Jynneos should be administered 28 days apart, with full protection achieved 14 days after the second dose. But some local health officials are changing protocols. In Washington DC, health officials are postponing some second doses of monkeypox vaccine in a strategy to give first doses to more people.”

Social Stigmas Harming the Monkeypox Response

To make matters worse, public discourse on the monkeypox crisis is riddled with blatant homophobia and there continues to be a lack of access to resources in non-western countries currently experiencing outbreaks. NPR explains that, “In fact, the WHO emergency committee that had previously considered whether to issue such a declaration was unable to reach a consensus in part because of concerns about the risk of stigma, marginalization and discrimination against the communities hit hardest by the virus.”

As the US and other countries continue to mostly see cases in those who identify as men who have sex with men, it is important to both acknowledge what risks this poses while also understanding that, “While we may be seeing clusters primarily in certain groups of people, viruses do not discriminate by race, by religion, or by sexual orientation,” as Dr. Boghuma Titanji told NPR. The WHO has asked those in this community to limit their number of sexual partners or reconsider having sex with new partners.

From CDC PHIL: This 1997 image was created during an investigation into an outbreak of monkeypox, which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, and depicts the dorsal surfaces of the hands of a monkeypox case patient, who was displaying the appearance of the characteristic rash during its recuperative stage. Even in its stages of healing, note how similar this rash appears to be when compared to the recuperative rash of smallpox, also an Orthopoxvirus.

“The Molecular Epidemiology of Multiple Zoonotic Origins of SARS-CoV-2” and “The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the Early Epicenter of the COVID-19 Pandemic”

Two studies we previously discussed as preprints were recently published in Science, one determining that it is unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating widely in humans prior to November 2019 and that it likely resulted from multiple zoonotic events, and the other finding that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the cite of its emergence thanks to live wildlife trade. These help put to rest claims that SARS-CoV-2 originated in laboratory facilities, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Dr. Angela Rasmussen, one of the scientists who co-authored these papers, discussed their findings in this video with PBS News Hour:

“Regenerate: Biotechnology and U.S. Industrial Policy”

Ryan Fedasiuk of the Center for New American Security and Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology recently authored this report, writing “A revolution in biotechnology is dawning at the precise moment the world needs it most. Amid an ongoing climate crisis, fast-paced technological maturation, and a global pandemic, humans must find new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve food security, develop new vaccines and therapeutics, recycle waste, synthesize new materials, and adapt to a changing world. But incentive structures in the U.S. private sector are generally biased against risk, and therefore constrain development in ways that do not have the same effect on firms in China and other U.S. competitors. This puts the United States at a relative disadvantage and risks ceding American leadership over one of the most powerful and transformative fields of technology in recent memory.

The United States needs some form of industrial policy to promote its bioeconomy—one that is enshrined in democratic values and focused on improving access to four key drivers of bioeconomic growth: equipment, personnel, information, and capital. This report attempts to measure the health and outlook of the U.S. synthetic biology industry and broader bioeconomy by examining U.S. access to each of these four resources. It concludes that the United States still possesses an advantage in each of these fields—but that, absent a proactive strategy to ensure resource access, and without a significant infusion of capital, the U.S. bioeconomy risks languishing behind competitors such as China in the decades ahead.”

Revisiting Gain of Function Research: What the Pandemic Taught Us and Where Do We Go From Here

The US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight will hold this hearing on August 3 at 2:30 pm ET. More information, including the video conference link, will become available here.

Evaluating COVID-19-Related Surveillance Measures for Decision Making

The National Academies are hosting a webinar with the Societal Experts Action Network highlighting new and updated COVID-19-related data measures and surveillance strategies that have emerged. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, decision makers have made critical decisions in rapidly changing circumstances, with limited information and uncertainty about the best available data or evidence. As the pandemic has continued to evolve, the types of data available have changed with the identification of new variants, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the introduction of new COVID-19 therapeutics, the reopening of the economy, and the relaxing of mitigation measures. In addition to analyzing positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalization data, and vaccination rates, as was common earlier in the pandemic, decision makers may take into consideration surveillance strategies like wastewater surveillance and genome sequence testing and surveillance. This webinar is on August 3 at 3:30 pm ET. Register here.

Disaster Available Supplies in Hospitals (DASH) Tool Launched

ASPR TRACIE’s new tool, DASH, is now available at dashtool.org. Hospital emergency planners and supply chain staff can use DASH to estimate supplies categorized in four modules (pharmaceutical, burn, trauma, and PPE) that may need to be immediately available during various mass casualty incidents and infectious disease emergencies based on hospital characteristics. Each module also incorporates pediatric sizes and specific medication needs as appropriate. TRACIE is offering a webinar on the tool August 15 at 11:30 am ET. Register here.