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.

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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.

Pandora Report: 7.1.2022

Happy July 4th weekend to our US readers! This week, we cover the US release of smallpox vaccines to combat the spread of monkeypox, the first decade with CRISPR, and plenty of great publications and an exciting upcoming TEXGHS event. Also, the Global Partnership just turned 20, making it of legal drinking age in all G7 countries except for the US!

Happy Birthday to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction!

The G7-led Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (Global Partnership) turned 20 this week! Launched on June 27, 2002, at the Kananaskis G8 summit, the Global Partnership is an international initiative aimed at preventing the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons and related materials. You can find the partnership’s latest newsletter and subscribe here to wish it a happy birthday.

Monkeypox Not Declared PHEIC, US Expands Vaccine Access

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released a statement on the report on the Meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country monkeypox outbreak this week, writing:

I am deeply concerned by the spread of monkeypox, which has now been identified in more than 50 countries, across five WHO regions, with 3000 cases since early May. The Emergency Committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak, noted many unknowns, gaps in current data and prepared a consensus report that reflects differing views amongst the Committee. Overall, in the report, they advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox. They expressed their availability to be reconvened as appropriate.

The Director-General also expressed concern about current monkeypox outbreaks spreading into children and pregnant women, stating “We are starting to see this with several children already infected.”

Days later, the US announced a new vaccine strategy for monkeypox in the US, with phase one focusing on “rapidly scaling up the delivery of monkeypox vaccines and targeting at-risk groups with vaccination.” According to CIDRAP, this plan will see 296,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine made available this month, with 56,000 being allocated immediately. In the coming months, 1.6 million additional doses will be made available, according to the Biden administration, being distributed equally among states.

Select Subcommittee On the Coronavirus Crisis Meets

The US Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, met last week to discuss the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19. This was following the release of the subcommittee’s first report investigating the administration’s political interference with the federal COVID-19 response. Dr. Deborah Birx, former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, testified before the committee during a hearing, in which she stated that “dangerous ideas” undermined the administration’s response while also discussing failures in communication, ignoring of guidance, and more. Dr. Birx’s full transcribed interview and emails uncovered over the course of the investigation, including those indicating that senior White House officials believed case identification would damage the president’s reputation, can also be found on the subcommittee’s website.

A Decade of CRISPR

A decade ago this week, Jinek et al. published “A Programmable Dual-RNA–Guided DNA Endonuclease in Adaptive Bacterial Immunity” in Science and, while the paper initially received lackluster attention, it soon opened numerous doors for scientific advancement and won Doudna and Charpentier the 2020 Nobel Prize for chemistry. However, it is not without serious ethical and biodefense questions and concerns that, as The New York Times explained this week, are becoming more important than ever. One of these questions is how this technology can be used to alter human embryos, which became much more pressing when following He Jiankui’s 2018 experiment in which he edited a gene in three embryos to make them HIV-resistant. The embryos were later implanted in three women in Shenzhen and it was announced in 2019 that He and two of his collaborators were found guilty of “illegal medical practices”.

For more on the security risks of CRISPR and He’s experiment, check out Dr. Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley’s award winning article, “From CRISPR Babies to Super Soldiers: Challenges and Security Threats Posed by CRISPR,” in The Nonproliferation Review.

“Examining North Korea’s COVID-19 Data: A Curious Case Study”

Martyn Williams, writing for the Stimson Center’s 38 North, does a deep dive on COVID-19 in North Korea in this piece, helping shine some light on several burning questions, including the almost impossible official death count. He discusses a number of potential reasons for this, including deliberate misinformation, and discusses how it appears even North Koreans themselves are suspicious of these numbers, writing “Just as foreign analysts have questioned the figures and unusually low fatality rate, so it appears are North Koreans. On June 9, state media reported work was underway to “enhance the scientific accuracy, promptness and credibility of medical checkups, tests and treatment,” suggesting internal questioning of the numbers as well.”

Trust and Verify No. 170, Summer 2022 Released

VERTIC’s summer 2022 edition of Trust and Verify was recently released, featuring articles ranging from several discussing issues arising from the Russo-Ukraine war to others like the first meeting of states parties for the TPNW to a prosecution in Germany for a CW-related offense. An article on the role of women in the BWC and its enforcement is also featured.

“Roundtable – The Biological Weapons Convention at 50: Still Seeking Verification AFter 50 Years…”

In this piece featured by the American Political Science Association, Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders discusses historical challenges that prevented establishment of verification tools under the BWTC, taking readers through different periods of the treaty’s history and discussing the power of norms embedded in the treaty.

“One Health: A New Definition for a Sustainable and Healthy Future”

This PLOS Pathogens article features the One Health High-Level Expert Panel discussing how COVID-19 has highlighted the need for a One Health approach to outbreak response. They explain:

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic once more demonstrated the close connection between humans, animals, and the shared environment. Although still under investigation, the closest relatives of this virus exist in animals, and the factors leading to spillover remain to be fully understood. This interconnectedness again highlighted the need for a One Health approach. Although the One Health concept is not new and has been at the forefront of interdisciplinary and multisectoral discussions for years, there is now an increased interest for this approach to be applied and translated into action. Following a proposal made by the French and German Ministers for Foreign Affairs at the November 2020 Paris Peace Forum, 4 global partners, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Health Organization (WHO), in May 2021 established the interdisciplinary One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) (https://www.who.int/groups/one-health-high-level-expert-panel) to enhance their cross-sectoral collaboration. The creation of OHHLEP represents a recognition at the highest level of the urgency and complexities surrounding One Health and the intent to take this concept forward into policies and concrete actions.

New NCT Magazine Edition Issue on Biological Threats

June’s edition of NCT Magazine features “pieces by renowned professionals from the US and Europe that wish to share their views on the likelihood of biological threats as a result of modern synthetic biology tools. As in all disciplines, these members from the academia and first responders are a diverse group and they hold different views on SynBio,” in an effort to enrich discourse on the topic.

“Adding Novichok Nerve Agents to the CWC Annex on Chemicals: a Technical Fix and Its Implications for the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Regime”

Alexander Kelle’s recent work published by UNIDIR “discusses and analyses the use of a novichok nerve agent in the United Kingdom in March 2018. This triggered a political process at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that led to the amendment of the CWC schedules. It provides a factual overview of the scientific discussion around the novichok class of chemical agents, and how this has changed since the amendment of the CWC schedules was adopted. Against the background of the cases where nerve agents have been used for political assassination, the report concludes with a discussion of implications of the schedule amendments for compliance with, and implementation of, the chemical weapons prohibition regime.”

This report features our own Dr. Koblentz’s work with Dr. Stefano Costanzi on Novichok agents, “Novichok Agents: Further Amending the Chemical Weapons Convention Schedules and the Australia Group Precursors List after the Navalny Incident”.

“Public Comment on Oligo Synthesis Screening”

The Engineering Biology Research Consortium has published its comments in response to a request by HHS ASPR for comments on the Screening Framework Guidance for Providers and Users of Synthetic Oligonucleotides. EBRC convened a two-day workshop with stakeholders from academia, industry, and government to consider the Guidance, and the discussions that ensued formed the basis for this response.

TEXGHS: Monkeypox and the Western Media’s Portrayal of Infectious Disease

Join TEXGHS for their free monthly lecture series, featuring public health physician & global health thought leader Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor on July 12 at 12 pm CDT. Global health is colonial in its origin. This colonial nature is reflected in skewed leadership of global health organizations favoring the global north. It is also reflected in the way some western media outlets paint the African continent: as a disease-ridden continent (or country) incapable of helping itself. This bias reporting must stop in the interest of both global north and global south.

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:

“Russian Disinformation Finds Fertile Ground in the West”

Ilya Yablokov’s June article in Nature Human Behaviour discusses potential methods for tackling Russian disinformation in the West. 

Recording- The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Biological Risks and Hazards in the World Today- with Special Focus on Russia and Ukraine

A panel of experts, including our own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, discussed evolving biological risks, the health security environment in post-Soviet states, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine- including those associated with Russia’s disinformation campaign at this event in May! Access the event recording here.

“A Perspective on Russian Cyberattacks and Disinformation”

Glenn Gerstell, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel of the National Security Agency, was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal event in San Francisco in front of a live audience. The discussion focused on Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine and Russia’s use of disinformation. Highlights of the discussion are available here.

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15

The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.

Pandora Report: 6.24.2022

Happy Friday! This week we cover new reporting on Russian disinformation campaigns, including those it backs in Syria and a new Microsoft report discussing Russia’s cyber strategy. We also discuss the WHO’s emergency meeting to discuss declaring monkepox a public health emergency of international concern, the winners of NTI’s next gen biosecurity competition, and a new resource from the One Health Commission.

WHO Considering Declaring Monkeypox a PHEIC, Vaccination and Testing Expands

WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened an Emergency Committee under Article 48 of the International Health Regulations in relation to the current outbreak of monkeypox virus yesterday (June 23). The goals of this meeting were to provide opinions to the Director General on whether the event constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and also on proposed potential Temporary Recommendations. While we have not heard their findings and decision yet, some critics argue that the WHO’s choice to wait and act only after the disease spread in the West “could entrench the grotesque inequities that arose between rich and poor countries during the coronavirus pandemic.” Furthermore, some have cast doubt that a PHEIC declaration would matter much since developed countries seeing outbreaks are moving quickly to contain them.

This comes as the US CDC is reporting they have evidence of local transmission of monkeypox, including through family members sharing things like bedding and towels. The Biden administration announced this week that it is authorizing commercial laboratories to conduct monkeypox tests in an effort to quickly grow testing capacity. The US is currently reporting 172 cases, with 48 of those in California, while the UK’s count continues to climb, currently sitting at 793. Globally as of Wednesday, 42 countries reported cases totaling 3,308, with the UK, Germany, and Spain having the most confirmed cases currently.

Orders for smallpox vaccines have skyrocketed as a result, with the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority having purchased 110,000 doses for 27 EU countries and the US ordering half a million doses just this month. Bavarian Nordic’s Vice President Rolf Sass Sorensen has said he is confident his company can keep up with global command even though they were caught by surprise with the sudden outbreak. The US stockpile has 36,000 doses of the Jynneos vaccine, more than 100 million of ACAM2000, and Bavarian Nordic holds 1 million US-owned doses. New York City became the first major US city to begin offering smallpox vaccines to people at-risk of contracting monkeypox this week with the city representing about 14% of the national case count.

However, not all are confident in the United States’ ability to handle this or other future health crises. This week, the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a National Public Health System released a report in which experts described the various inadequacies and inequities of the United States’ response to COVID-19. Among other things, the panel recommends the “creation of a new national public health system” to better help address crises. The New York Times explains that “While other countries have centralized public health authorities, public health in the United States is largely managed at the state and local level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal public health agency, does not have the authority to compel states to act — it cannot, for example, investigate outbreaks of infectious disease in a particular state unless it has an invitation from state officials to do so.” Their proposed system would be overseen by an Undersecretary for Public Health in the US Department of Health and Human Services, who would be responsible for coordinating the work of over a dozen federal agencies who have some role in public health.

In related news, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions passed the bipartisan Murray-Burr PREVENT Pandemics Act with a 20-2 vote. The Murray-Burr bill combines numerous prior efforts to, among several other things, “Ensure the CDC’s Accountability and Leadership by Requiring a Senate-confirmed CDC Director and an Agency-wide Strategic Plan.” This is a move some caution will only further harm the CDC, with GOP-backed efforts to make the CDC Director position a senate-confirmed one late last year sparking controversy. The CDC and its current director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have caught much flack in recent years, with a recent internal probe at the agency finding serious deficiencies in the organization’s culture and responsiveness to public health threats.

Winners of 2022 Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition Announced

In better news, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and its partners recently announced the winners of their annual biosecurity competition – Nicholas Cropper, Shrestha Rath, and Ryan Teo – and their paper, “Creating a Verification Protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention: A Modular-Incremental Approach.” The second place team’s paper, “Leveraging Advances in Biotechnology to Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention Verification Protocols,” was also announced. Biodefense program alumnus Dr. Yong-Bee Lim and program director Dr. Gregory Koblentz were on the international panel of judges as well.

“Defending Ukraine: Early Lessons from the Cyber War”

Microsoft’s new report discussing Russia’s cyber strategy and how it has played out during the invasion of Ukraine was released this week. It devotes much attention to how effective Russia’s disinformation campaign has been, including the spread of disinformation regarding US-supported biological research facilities in Ukraine. It reads in part, “The Russian invasion relies in part on a cyber strategy that includes at least three distinct and sometimes coordinated efforts—destructive cyberattacks within Ukraine, network penetration and espionage outside Ukraine, and cyber influence operations targeting people around the world. This report provides an update and analysis on each of these areas and the coordination among them. It also offers ideas about how to better counter these threats in this war and beyond, with new opportunities for governments and the private sector to work better together.” It offers five conclusions, including that “…defense against a military invasion now requires for most countries the ability to disburse and distribute digital operations and data assets across borders and into other countries,” and “…the lessons from Ukraine call for a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to strengthen defenses against the full range of cyber destructive, espionage, and influence operations.”

“Deadly Disinformation: How Online Conspiracies About Syria Cause Real-World Harm”

The Syria Campaign, supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and using ISD research, recently released this report on a disinformation network coordinated by a Russian campaign targeting the White Helmets and spreading disinformation about the Syrian conflict – including “the denial or distortion of facts about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and on attacking the findings of the world’s foremost chemical weapons watchdog.” The Guardian explains that “The White Helmets became a target of Russian ire after documenting incidents such as the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017, which killed 92 people, a third of them children. A UN unit later concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Syrian forces dropped a bomb dispersing sarin” on the town in Idlib province.” The report also finds that Russian official government accounts, including those of the Russian embassies to the UK and Syria, played a central role in creating and spreading false content. The report finds that “Of the 47,000 disinformation tweets sent by the core of 28 conspiracy theorists over seven years from 2015 to 2021, 19,000 were original posts, which were retweeted more than 671,000 times.”

What We’re Listening To- Poisons and Pestilence Podcast

The University of Bath’s Dr. Brett Edwards’ podcast, Poisons and Pestilence, recently released a bonus episode episode focused on the Polish resistance movement’s use of CBW during World War II. After a great first season that included “Episode 2: Hittite me Plaguey one more time”, Dr. Edwards announced a second season “looking at poison arrows, toxic smoke, water poisoning and the laws of war from the 13th to the 18th century.” Be sure to give this podcast a listen and follow!

Virtual Stakeholder Engagement Meeting on USG Policies for the Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern

The purpose of this meeting is to gather feedback from stakeholders about their experiences implementing these policies, the effect of these policies in terms of achieving their stated goals, the overarching definition of DURC, and possible alternative approaches for the oversight and responsible conduct of DURC. This feedback will also be used to inform the discussions of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in fulfillment their current charge to evaluate and analyze the DURC policies. It will be held on June 29, 2022 at 12 pm ET. Registration is not required to attend. Find the webcast link and more information here.

Recording- The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Biological Risks and Hazards in the World Today- with Special Focus on Russia and Ukraine

A panel of experts, including our own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, discussed evolving biological risks, the health security environment in post-Soviet states, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine- including those associated with Russia’s disinformation campaign at this event in May! Access the event recording here.

One Health Commission Launches One Health Tools and Toolkits Compilation Page

“Many governmental agencies, NGOs, academic institutions, and other organizations have created a diverse array of One Health (OH) tools and toolkits to help OH practitioners and lifelong learners integrate health operations & monitoring across societal sectors and geographic boundaries. They aid in health systems management, disease surveillance, research, learning, and much more.

Since 2019, the One Health Commission has been compiling these toolkits to characterize the increasing operationalization of OH worldwide. The webpage listing of these resources is now available to the world: https://tinyurl.com/OHC-OH-Toolkits

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:

“A Perspective on Russian Cyberattacks and Disinformation”

Glenn Gerstell, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel of the National Security Agency, was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal event in San Francisco in front of a live audience. The discussion focused on Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine and Russia’s use of disinformation. Highlights of the discussion are available here.

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15

The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.