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.”
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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