Pandora Report: 9.2.2022

Happy Labor Day Weekend! This week we cover the Biden administration’s first annual report on the progress of the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan, German officials’ searches of several companies suspected to be exporting restricted chemicals to Russian companies, and more. We also discuss several new publications, including a RAND Corporation ebook discussing North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons programs, and several upcoming events–the most exciting of which are the Biodefense Program’s upcoming open houses for prospective graduate students!

United States Announces First Death of Monkeypox Patient

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced the first death of someone diagnosed with monkeypox this week, though Healio reports officials have not determined if the disease was the person’s cause of death or not. “The adult, who died on Aug. 28 at a hospital in Harris County, had “various severe illnesses [and] was also presumptive positive for monkeypox,” according to Harris County Public Health. DSHS stated that the patient was severely immunocompromised and that autopsy results should be available in the coming days. “Monkeypox is a serious disease, particularly for those with weakened immune systems,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS Commissioner. “We continue to urge people to seek treatment if they have been exposed to monkeypox or have symptoms consistent with the disease.”

White House Releases Annual Report on American Pandemic Preparedness Plan

Yesterday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released the first Annual Report on Progress Towards Implementation of the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan, detailing matters like investment priorities and areas needing the most attention in the coming years. The report documents progresses made in implementing transformational capabilities in the areas of: transforming our medical defenses, ensuring situational awareness, strengthening public health systems, building core capabilities, and managing the mission. It also identifies “utilizing current infectious disease health challenges to “exercise” pandemic preparedness” and “achieving a ‘portfolio view’ of U.S. government pandemic preparedness investment to ensure readiness and maximize impact” as key goals. To achieve these goals, the document identifies numerous smaller goals, ranging in everything from developing flexible vaccine administration techniques to developing standard efficacy testing methods for air treatment technologies.

FDA Authorizes Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines

The FDA announced this week that the emergency use authorizations in place for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines were amended to authorize bivalent versions for use as a single booster dose at least two months after primary or booster vaccination. This comes as we near fall, during which it is predicted that the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant, which are currently causing most US COVID-19 cases, will circulate heavily. FDA explained in a press release “The bivalent vaccines, which we will also refer to as “updated boosters,” contain two messenger RNA (mRNA) components of SARS-CoV-2 virus, one of the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 and the other one in common between the BA.4 and BA.5 lineages of the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.” Moderna’s bivalent offering is authorized for use in those 18 and older, while Pfizer’s is authorized for those over 12.

‘“The COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, continue to save countless lives and prevent the most serious outcomes (hospitalization and death) of COVID-19,”’ said FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert M. Califf. ‘“As we head into fall and begin to spend more time indoors, we strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to consider receiving a booster dose with a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine to provide better protection against currently circulating variants.”’

Science published answers to FAQs regarding these vaccines, explaining the authorization process, the data the companies collected in creating these boosters, and the benefits they offer.

German Officials Conduct Raids on Companies Exporting Dual-Use Chemicals to Russia

Earlier this week, German customs officials conducted searches of multiple company facilities across the country on suspicion that the companies have been sending export-restricted materials, including a precursor of Novichok, to Russian companies known to work with the Russian military and intelligence services.

The core company in the network, Riol Chemie GmbH, completed more than 30 shipments of different chemicals and lab equipment to Russia-based Chimmed Group over the course of the last few years without proper export permits. According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, “Chimmed is a wholesaler of such goods, and Russian media have reported that its customers include the military and intelligence services.”

Tagesschau explained further that “In the course of the attack on Navalny, the company Riol Chemie GmbH was already in the focus of Western intelligence services. After the assassination, the United States imposed sanctions on Russian state officials and issued export restrictions for a dozen companies. The list, which was not adopted by the EU, also includes Riol Chemie, which has now been searched. The Russian chemical wholesaler Khmmed [Chimmed], which Riol Chemie apparently supplied according to the investigation, also ended up on the list.”

Multiple Countries Issue Joint Statement on “the Contribution of Cooperative Threat Reduction Partnerships to Global Health Security”

The Governments of the United States of America, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Jordan, Liberia, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Ukraine released this statement this week in light of the opening of the consultative meeting requested by Russia to discuss its false claims that the US is running a network of BW facilities in Ukraine. The statement reads, “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of strong national capacities for infectious disease surveillance, diagnosis, and response. International cooperation and assistance play a critical role in building these capacities. Our governments have partnered openly and transparently through the Biological Threat Reduction Program, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. These partnerships are devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes; they have nothing to do with weapons. These partnerships protect the health of humans and animals in our countries, including in the prevention, detection, and control of infectious disease outbreaks, and in enhancing laboratory biosafety and biosecurity. As partners in this program, we each have firsthand knowledge of its relevance to our shared goal of cooperating to strengthen global health security and reduce the impacts of infectious diseases on our societies. Our governments strongly affirm the common view that such cooperation should not be undermined, but rather promoted and reinforced. Pursuant to Article X, we encourage all Biological Weapons Convention States Parties to work together, including at the forthcoming Review Conference, in support of this goal.”

Statement of the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors’ Group on Nuclear Safety and Security at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant

The G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group issued a statement this week reiterating the G7 Foreign Ministers August 10 statement in “support of the IAEA’s efforts to promote nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.” The statement explains, “The G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group remains profoundly concerned by the serious threat the continued control of Ukrainian nuclear facilities by Russian armed forces pose to the safety and security of these facilities. These actions significantly raise the risk of a nuclear accident or incident and endanger the population of Ukraine, neighbouring states, and the international community. The Russian Federation must immediately withdraw its troops from within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and respect Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty. We reaffirm that the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and the electricity that it produces rightly belong to Ukraine and stress that attempts by Russia to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid would be unacceptable. We underline that Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant should not be used for military activities or the storage of military material.”

The statement also reads, “As founders of the G7-led Global Partnership, we have worked together with Ukraine for more than 20 years to increase the safety and security of its nuclear facilities. We therefore have a particular responsibility to support international efforts aimed at sustaining these facilities and assisting Ukraine in countering the serious risks Russia’s war of aggression poses to the safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear installations.”

It concludes with “We deeply regret that Russia blocked consensus at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference because it refused to accept responsibility for the grave situation around the safeguards, safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities. This cannot be seen as an act of good faith. Every other NPT state supported the draft outcome. Even though it was not adopted, it provides a solid blueprint for progress on all three NPT pillars.”

“Characterizing the Risks of North Korean Chemical and Biological Weapons, Electromagnetic Pulse, and Cyber Threats”

The RAND Corporation recently published this free ebook discussing the DPRK’s WMD capabilities. “The authors present a theory of deterrence and suggest how the ROK-U.S. alliance could rein in North Korean efforts to augment or enhance its WMD and cyber capabilities and deter the North from attacking the ROK and beyond. Throughout, the authors acknowledge the uncertainties involved and argue that any effective action on the part of the ROK-U.S. alliance will require recognizing and managing those uncertainties.”

“Learning, Relearning, and Not Learning the Lessons of COVID-19”

Dr. Daniel M. Gerstein, an alumnus of the Biodefense Program, recently published this OpEd in The Hill. In it, he “…makes the case that to date, there has been no coherent national discussion on the COVID-19 gaps and shortfalls we experienced in our national pandemic preparedness and response systems. These concerns cut across federal departments and agencies; state and local governments; and the private sector, and therefore need to be considered and coordinated across all of these stakeholders.” He further explains, “However, at lower levels changes—policy, organizational and resource decisions—are being implemented piecemeal. Furthermore, despite two and a half years of living through COVID-19, as the money pox outbreak demonstrates we continue to flounder, often repeating the same mistakes. In short, we are “learning, relearning and not learning the lessons of COVID-19.”

“Controlling Chemical Weapons in the New International Order”

National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CSWMD) recently published this edition of CSWMD Proceedings. In it, “Mr. John Caves, CSWMD Distinguished Fellow, and Dr. Seth Carus, NDU Emeritus Distinguished Professor of National Security Policy examine the breakdown in consensus decision-making at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and place this development in the context of Russia, China, and Iran’s larger challenge to a rules-based international order. The article further considers how this dynamic may play out in the OPCW in the coming years and discusses how the United States can continue to use the Chemical Weapons Convention and OPCW to defend the international norm against chemical weapons while better protecting itself and its allies and partners from a greater chemical weapons threat.”

“Optimizing and Unifying Infection Control Precautions for Respiratory Viral Infections”

The Journal of Infectious Diseases recently published this piece by Klompas and Rhee discussing current guidelines on respiratory precautions for healthcare workers. In it, they argue “…it is high time to modify infection control guidelines for respiratory viruses to recognize that that their transmission is more alike than different and that most transmission is attributable to aerosol inhalation. We recommend switching from the current confusing and non-evidence-based mosaic of different precautions for different viruses to one universal set of respiratory viral precautions that includes wearing gowns, gloves, eye protection, and fitted respirators in well-ventilated spaces.”

“Latest from the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, Issue 3: Summer 2022”

The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence recently released the latest edition of its newsletter recently. This one introduces a new section by the Assistant Director-General for Health Emergency Intelligence, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, and a new collaboration with the Hasso Plattner Institute. It also provides updates on the WHO’s monkeypox response and upcoming events sponsored by the Hub.

“Three Solutions for Public Health—And One Dangerous Idea”

Dr. Tom Frieden, who directed the CDC during the Obama administration, recently published an opinion piece in the Atlantic discussing the way forward for his former agency. In it, he writes, “But even if the CDC’s proposed reforms succeed, much of what’s broken is outside of the agency’s control. The United States suffers from chronic underfunding of local, city, and state public-health departments; a health-care system that is not structured to provide consistent care to patients; lack of standardization across states for collecting and reporting anonymized data for disease detection and response; and a broad increase in political polarization that shrinks the space for nonpartisan action and organizations. White House actions under both Republican and Democratic administrations have undermined the CDC’s credibility, its freedom to speak directly to the media and public, and the public’s perception of its scientific independence.”

What We’re Listening To 🎧

The Lawfare Podcast: Sean Ekins and Filippa Lentzos on a Teachable Moment for Dual-Use

“Back in March, a team of researchers published an article in Nature Machine Intelligence showing that a drug discovery company’s AI-powered molecule generator could have a dangerous dual use: The model could design thousands of new biochemical weapons in a matter of hours that were equally as toxic as, if not more toxic than, the nerve agent VX.

Lawfare associate editor Tia Sewell sat down with two of the paper’s authors: Dr. Filippa Lentzos, senior lecturer in science & international security at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, and Dr. Sean Ekins, CEO of Collaborations Pharmaceuticals. They discussed the story of their discovery and their reaction to it, as well as how we should think about dual-use artificial intelligence threats more broadly as new technologies expand the potential for malicious use. They also got into why governments need to work more proactively to address the challenges of regulating machine learning software.” Find this episode here.

Technologically Speaking Episode 7: Speed Up the Cleanup

DHS S&T’s podcast “Technologically Speaking has a sobering and important conversation about preparing for chemical and biological contamination. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the impact of such an event would be staggering. S&T exists, in part, to research and test tools for complex cleanup scenarios that require acting quickly, efficiently and with confidence that hazardous material, like anthrax, is decontaminated. Guest Dr. Don Bansleben, a program manager at S&T specializing in chemical and biological threat detection, talks about the current work S&T is doing with U.S. government partners to prepare for these scenarios.” Find this episode and others here.

Public Health On Call Episode 512: FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf on Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines, Combatting Misinformation, and Building Trust

From Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health-“Throughout COVID-19, the FDA has been among many government agencies charged with communicating lifesaving information. Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf talks with Dr. Josh Sharfstein about how the politicization of the pandemic raised the stakes for the FDA and how the agency is learning to adapt in an age of rampant misinformation. They also discuss the FDA’s consideration of bivalent vaccines for authorization and what’s next for the pandemic response.” Check it out here.

Interested in Studying Biodefense? Come to Our Information Sessions!

Are you a Pandora Report reader who just can’t get enough? Consider applying to the Schar School’s Biodefense Program, which offers several graduate certificates, an MS in Biodefense (both in-person and online), and a PhD in Biodefense if you’re really into this. On September 15 at 7 pm ET AND October 11 at 12 pm ET, you can join us virtually to learn more about admissions for the MS and graduate certificates, including info on the application process, student experiences, and graduate outcomes. On September 13 at 7 pm ET, prospective PhD students are invited to the Schar School PhD Virtual Open House to learn about the school’s different doctoral programs and hear from faculty members.

Public Meeting-Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

The 21st PACCARB public meeting is tentatively being planned as an in-person event on September 12 and 13 from 9-5 pm ET each day. The meeting will focus on pandemic preparedness and AMR policy. This meeting is open to the public. Members of the public can choose to attend in-person (attendance will be limited) or view the meeting via webcast. The meeting will be held at the Tysons Corner Marriott, 8028 Leesburg Pike, Tysons Corner, Virginia, 22182. Learn more and register here.

Protecting Genetic Information Against Cyber Threats

Join CRDF Global for this event on September 13 at 10 am ET. “Our current lack of genetic information security is more than just an issue for privacy. Our adversaries’ access to our genetic data can be used to find and exploit weaknesses. Genetic data would be required for a bioweapon to be developed against a specific ethnic group or an individual. For tracking a pandemic or potential bioweapon, genetic data from a pathogen must be generated. This pathogen’s genetic data could then be used to recreate and/or enhance its potential. To protect against these threats, we need a genetic information system that protects human and pathogen information from exfiltration. Our current lab environment lacks appropriate cybersecurity, and enhancing lab cybersecurity is no simple task. Join us as will discuss these threats and what can be done to mitigate them.” Learn more and register here.

Monkeypox: Have We Learned Anything from COVID-19?

The Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University will be hosting an event on monkeypox later this month. “Dr. Gerald Parker will moderate a panel of experts, including Drs. Robert Carpenter, Syra Madad, Jennifer A. Shuford, and Robert Kadlec, as they explore the Monkeypox phenomenon. Recently declared a public health crisis by the federal government, Monkeypox is the thing on everyone’s mind. The panel will answer questions such as: Are we making the same mistakes with Monkeypox as we did with COVID-19? How can we do better with this and future pandemic threats? Is this something we need to be concerned about? And more.” This event will take place on September 19 at 5:30 pm CT. Register for the virtual event at tx.ag/dgxNOXU.

Global Patterns of COVID-19-related Violence Against Health Workers

“In many countries, the pandemic has increased violence against physicians, nurses, and other health care providers, partly due to widespread fear and mis/disinformation. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Human Rights will gather experts from the global health community for a virtual session examining this worrying development, along with strategies being taken to protect and safeguard the rights of health personnel. The session will include discussion of a recent report by the International Council of Nurses, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Hospital Federation, and World Medical Association on current practices to prevent, reduce, or mitigate violence against health care.” This event will take place on September 21 at 10 am ET. Register here.

Complexity of Pandemics No 2-Exploring Insights from the Social Sciences for Collaborative Intelligence

Join Prof. Michael Bang Petersen (Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University, Denmark and Founder of the HOPE project), Dr. Julienne Ngoundoung Anoko (Focal Point for Social Science / Risk Communication and Community Engagement at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme’s Regional Office for Africa in Dakar, Senegal), Prof. Ilona Kickbusch (Founder and Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland), and Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu (WHO Assistant Director-General for the Division of Health Emergency Intelligence and Surveillance Systems) for a session “devoted to highlighting the importance of integrating insights from the social sciences into public health surveillance approaches to better avert and manage epidemic and pandemic risks.” This event will be livestreamed on the WHO’s YouTube channel on September 22 at 12:30 pm ET.

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.

Biodefense PhD Student Named Druckman Fellow

Danyale Kellogg, a PhD student in the Biodefense Program, was recently named the Schar School’s latest Druckman Fellow. This fellowship is awarded to support a student’s research that falls into areas like global governance, non-military responses to threats to national and international security, and the study of conflict. Kellogg’s research focuses on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) role in infectious disease outbreak responses, paying particular attention to the PRC’s failures to notify the WHO of outbreaks in accordance with the IHR and threats such issues pose to international security.

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.

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.

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!

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 7.14.2017

Welcome to your weekly dose of all things biodefense! We’ve got a lot of global health security goodies for you this week, so grab a coffee and let’s get our biodefense on!

Canadian Researchers Reconstitute Horsepox With Online DNA Order
Friday was an exciting day in the world of dual-use research of concern (DURC) and biosecurity efforts. News of a Canadian research team and their successful experiment in reconstituting horsepox, brought to light several concerns and gaps within DURC oversight. Led by virologist David Evans, the team was able to synthesize horsepox, a relative of smallpox, which is no longer found in nature. What is really concerning so many about this experiment is that Evans and his team were able to do this with little specialized knowledge, $100,000, and using mail-order DNA fragments. While the study hasn’t been published, it is drawing a lot of attention, not only for the potential that such a process could be applied to smallpox, but also that it failed to trigger more reviews at an institutional level for DURC risks. While the U.S. DURC oversight only applies to federally funded research with fifteen select agents, the Canadian processes cover such research that could disseminate knowledge, regardless of what organism is being used. GMU’s Dr. Gregory Koblentz spoke to Science and discussed DURC oversight, noting, “That should have captured the horsepox synthesis,”. “But as far as I understand, they did not engage in a systematic review of the broader dual-use implications of synthesizing an orthopox virus,” says Koblentz. “I don’t think this experiment should have been done.” Researchers and biosecurity experts around the world are weighing in on this study, especially since its publication is immiment. Tom Inglesby of the Center for Health Security pointed to three serious questions and concerns that this work raises – whether experimental work should be performed for the purpose of demonstrating that a dangerous or destructive  outcome could be created by using biology, how much new detail will be provided in the forthcoming publication regarding the processes for constructing an orthopox virus, and the international biosecurity and biosafety implications regarding the approval process for such experimental work. Perhaps one of the most startling aspects of all the commentary and reports on the horsepox experiment has been Evans own opinion on it all – “Have I increased the risk by showing how to do this? I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe yes. But the reality is that the risk was always there.” Where ever you might stand on the topic of dual-use research, bioethicist Nicholas Evans of the University of Massachusetts (of no relation to David Evans), said it best regarding this debated experiment – “an important milestone, a proof of concept of what can be done with viral synthesis. Aside from the oversight and life science research questions that this experiment brings to light, it also stirs the embers of the fiery debate regarding the destruction of the remaining smallpox stockpiles. The most recent blue ribbon panel review regarding the 2014 NIH variola incident sheds some light on the biosecurity and biosafety challenges of maintaining the stockpiles. You can check out the report of the Blue Ribbon Panel to Review the 2014 Smallpox Virus Incident on the NIH Campus  here. The report goes through the event itself, as well as their findings on the incident, response to the incident, and policy changes. Some of the contributing factors they identified included lack of responsibility for infectious materials in shared space, failure to find all variola samples in the 1980s, lack of complete and regular inventory of potentially hazardous biological materials, lack of policy for abandoned materials, history of NIH lapses following implementation of the Select Agent Regulations, etc.

Summer Workshop – Last Chance to Register!
Our Summer Workshop on Pandemics, Bioterrorism, and Global Health Security starts on Monday, July 17th, which means you still have time to register! Don’t miss out on this wonderful opportunity to discuss everything from Ebola to the concerns surrounding the horsepox dual-use dilemma. This three-day workshop will feature experts across the field of biodefense and will provide participants with a wonderful opportunity for networking and brainstorming!

The Pentagon Weighs the Threat of Synthetic Bioweapons 
While the topic of synbio and DURC is still fresh in our minds, how is the Pentagon considering gene-editing as a potential threat? Sure, we prepare for natural outbreaks and acts of bioterrorism, but how does CRISPR come into the mix? “Pentagon planners are starting to wonder what happens if the next deadly flu bug or hemorrhagic fever doesn’t come from a mosquito-infested jungle or bat-crowded cave. With new gene editing tools like Crispr-Cas9, state enemies could, theoretically, create unique organisms by mixing-and-matching bits of genetic information.” In response to these questions and potential scenarios, deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, Christian Hassell, is working to get some answers. Hassell and other Pentagon colleages funded a year-long review by the National Academies of Sciences to evaluate the health security threats of synbio. While the review is still going on, a preliminary report is undergoing “classified review” before it can be publicly released. This review will be vital to consider the future of gain-of-function research and other dual-use research of concern in the context of biodefense. “Scientists at the meeting expressed a range of ideas about how the military could best defend against biological threats. Sriram Kosuri runs a synthetic biology lab at UCLA that has developed libraries of DNA sequences that can be developed into new kinds of organisms. While he understands the possibility of a lab-engineered threat, he believes the Pentagon and federal health officials should focus on responding to emerging public health menaces rather than monitoring academic labs that use genetic manipulation tools. ‘There’s a legitimate threat of emerging viruses and we need to be prepared for those things,’ Kosuri said during a break in the meeting. ‘The tiny threat of engineered viruses is miniscule compared to that’.” The challenging part in all of this is that there’s no precedent – this is a new field of threat and risk analysis where historical examples are lacking. Hypothetical situations and response scenarios are the best we can offer, but some of the most valuable tools are the ones we already have, like surveillance or early-stage review processes.

Trump Appoints A Key Bioterrorism Position But Still Leaves Dozens Open
Biological threats aren’t just acts of bioterrorism, but also natural outbreaks or laboratory accidents. If the latest horsepox experiment hasn’t convinced you already, we live in a time of quite unique and diverse biothreats. The spectrum of threats requires an array of agencies and personnel with the skills and resources to prevent and respond to such an event. Unfortunately, we’re currently at a national disadvantage in terms of biodefense. If we look at just one small facet of biothreats (bioterrorism), the U.S. has twenty-six (now twenty-five with the nomination of Kadlec) major and vital roles that are vacant and have not been filled by the Trump administration. While some are awaiting confirmation, there are vacancies without even a nominee like the White House position of Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Department of Health and Human Services is missing a surgeon general and assistant secretary for health (awaiting confirmation), while the U.S. Agency For International Development lacks a nominee for the assistant administrator for global health. There are just a few of the vital positions we rely upon for preventing and responding to acts of bioterrorism. In the wider context of all biological threats, it may not seem like much, but the truth is that these vacancies leave the U.S. in a dangerously vulnerable position. Fortunately, President Trump announced on Monday his plans to nominate Robert P. Kadlec of New York to be the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Preparedness and Response. “Currently, Dr. Kadlec is the Deputy Staff Director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Previously, he served as a Special Assistant to the President for Biodefense Policy for President George W. Bush. Dr. Kadlec holds a B.S. from the U.S. Air Force Academy; a M.D. from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and a M.A. in National Security Studies, Georgetown University.” He was also the Director for the Biodefense Preparedness on the Homeland Security Council and aided in drafting the Pandemic and All-Hazard Preparedness Act, as well as conducting the biodefense end-to-end assessment (culminating in the National Biodefense Policy for the 21st Century). You can even watch Dr. Kadlec speak on C-SPAN at the Bipartisan Policy Center & Kansas State University forum on biodefense in October of 2016. Dr. Kadlec also directed the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense during their efforts to establish guidance during critical biothreats.

Public Health Preparedness and Response National Snapshot 2017
The CDC just released their 2017 snapshot regarding U.S. public health preparedness and response, noting that “this year has shown us, once again, that we can’t predict the next disaster. But it has also shown us clearly how being prepared protects health and saves lives. Emergencies can devastate a single area, as we saw with Hurricane Matthew, or span the globe, like Zika virus. Disasters from 9/11 to Ebola have demonstrated that we absolutely must have people, strategies, and resources in place before an emergency happens.” Within the snapshot, there are four main sections- Prepare, Respond, Connect, and Looking Forward. Within these sections, you can look at Zika, laboratories as the front lines of America’s health, global training programs, delivering results through partnership, etc. I found the section on Health Security: How Is The U.S. Doing, quite interesting. They note that “as part of the Global Health Security Agenda, teams of international experts travel to countries to report on how well public health systems are working to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks. This process is known as the Joint External Evaluation.” The CDC and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) work together to establish evaluators , etc. Thankfully, this position is in the process of being filled so that these efforts can move forward. While this snapshot captures the range of issues that must be covered in public health preparedness, it also draws attention to how vital the roles in each agency are, which makes the vacancies that much more impacting.

Summary of Key Recommendations – Meeting to Solicit Stakeholder Input on Forthcoming 2017 National Biodefense Strategy
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, supported by the Open Philanthropy Project, recently held a meeting to discuss and consider the landscape of biological threats to the United States and what response measures, programs, and policies are in place, etc. Featuring members from across academia, industry, and government, these subject matter experts weighed in on this honest and frank discussion about U.S. biodefense strengths and weaknesses. There were several recommendations and topics that were discussed but some of the highlights include improving biosurveillance capabilities and laboratory network, performing risk assessments and characterizing threats, strengthening emergency response capabilities including decontamination efforts, prevention-related efforts, building global capacities for bio-threat preparedness and response, etc. They noted several components to improving U.S. biodefense – “internationally, laboratory and surveillance systems for early detection of new outbreaks will be most effective when they serve the needs of countries where they are housed. It will not work for the US to create systems to gather and export data that the US needs from countries if those countries do not get the information themselves and find it to be valuable.” In regards to healthcare system response and strengthening the workforce, the group pointed out that “national and international preparedness for biological threats requires a strong workforce, including public health experts and animal and plant disease scientists. To some degree, success at controlling infectious diseases in the US may have inadvertently resulted in workforce attrition in these fields. Federal support for developing the workforce in these fields is important”.

Strategies for Effective Biological Detection Systems: A Workshop
Don’t miss this workshop put on by the National Academies of Sciences on Monday, September 18th – Tuesday, September 19th. “The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will host a two-day public workshop on strategies for effectively updating biological detection systems. The workshop will explore alternative effective systems that would meet requirements for the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch Program as a biological detection system for aerosolized agents. There will be a focus on systems or strategies that could be deployed by 2027, and enable indoor surveillance and dual-use with day-to-day environmental surveillance that would be of value to the public health and medical communities. There will also be a focus on the integration of improvements and new technologies into the existing biological detection architecture.”

MRSA Screening – Healthcare Prevention Methods for Resistant Germs & Swabbing Our Way To A Solution for Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a growing global issue and one of the hotspots for transmission of resistant germs is in hospitals. Given that MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is now a common bacteria in the community and healthcare world, hospitals are working to screen patients to ensure those with MRSA are isolated appropriately and they can stop the spread of infection. GMU biodefense PhD student and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu looks at MRSA screening practices within hospital intensive care units (ICUs) and the cost analysis that can make or break a program. Most hospitals utilize one of two approaches – preemptive universal precautions (isolate all ICU patients until microbiology labs can prove they are negative for MRSA) or targeted isolation (wait until labs come back and then isolate). Each tactic has benefits and weaknesses. Delays in isolation can translate to further spread of MRSA, while longer periods in isolation mean additional costs associated with isolation. A recent study evaluated these very two strategies and the “researchers found that the total cost of preemptive isolation ‘was minimized when a PCR screen was used ($82.51 per patient). Costs were $207.60 more per patient when a conventional culture was used due to the longer turnaround time.’ For ICUs that used targeted isolation, the researchers found that costs would be lowest when chromogenic agar 24-testing was used and not PCR.” What this study highlights is that there is inherently no best practice and that depending on laboratory capability, hospitals may have to plan their MRSA screening and isolation protocols off their microbiology department and cost centers. While hospitals are working to screen patients as a means of responding to microbial resistance, researchers are working against the clock to find solutions. Dr. Adam Roberts is one such innovative microbiologist in the UK who is using an old-school approach to respond to a new problem. Popescu was able to interview him regarding his Swab and Send program, which utilizes citizen scientists from around the world to collect samples that may help produce new antimicrobials from the environment. Roberts is working to utilize environmental samples that hold microorganisms which produce compounds that can help build new antibiotics. “The initiative also helps create a microbial database. For £30, Dr. Roberts’ team will send anyone a handful of sample tubes, a mailing envelope, and directions for what to swab (for example: a nutritious area bacteria would likely grow, likely something unsanitary). After you send back your swabs, you can check out Swab and Send’s Facebook page and see what microbes grew from the samples.” Check out Dr. Roberts’ comments on trends he’s seeing and how even GMU biodefense students are getting in on the swabbing!

Naval Research Lab Find High Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance in Kenya
Microbial resistance has a way of popping up in even the most unexpected places and projects. The U.S. Navy Research Laboratory (NRL), U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Kenya (USAMRD-K), Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), and University of Washington, led a joint effort to evaluate intestinal tract bacteria and its resistance in patients across Kenya. The NRL-developed microarray they used is capable of detecting over 200 difference antimicrobial resistant genes. “These results suggest that there is selective pressure for the establishment and maintenance of resistant strains,” said Dr. Chris Taitt, research biologist, NRL Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering. “This is potentially due to agriculture and prophylactic use of antibiotics and further suggests the need for more effective public health policies and infection control measures than those currently implemented.” “Specific to Kenya, widespread use of tetracycline in livestock production, use of trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (SXT) and chloramphenicol as first line therapeutics for typhoid, and prophylactic use of SXT in persons exposed to or infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) might have contributed to the high prevalence of resistance.” Surveillance of antimicrobial resistance has been a struggle on an international level however, joint efforts like this are vital to not only establishing global standards and processes, but also highlighting the importance it has for military personnel abroad.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Agroterrorism Bill – a new bill was recently introduced by U.S. Rep. David Young (R-IA) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) regarding the preparedness of the U.S. agriculture, food, and veterinary systems. “The Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act requires the DHS Secretary, through the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs, to ensure food, agriculture, animal, and human health sectors receive appropriate attention and are also integrated into the DHS’s domestic preparedness policy initiatives. The legislation specifically addresses issues seen after the 2015 avian influenza outbreak, which killed millions of turkeys, backyard flocks, and layer hens. It was the deadliest outbreak of avian influenza in Iowa’s history.”
  • What The G-20 Needs To Do To Fight The Next Ebola– The G-20 summit occurred last week in Hamburg and many were hoping for a renewed passion surrounding biological threats. While much attention was focused on climate change, there is also a call for efforts to prevent the next outbreak that will produce a pandemic. “Ultimately, strong health systems depend on communities, health workers, managers, researchers and other local stakeholders being empowered to respond to the inevitable, future waves of change we all face. At Health Systems Global, our members represent these multiple groups. Strengthening everyday resilience demands that we all — governments, donors, researchers, communities, health professionals — work with the resources that health systems already have — their people and relationships. This must be done as we take wider action to confront inequality at all levels. If we do not do that, then efforts to safeguard disease outbreaks will be meaningless.”

Pandora Report 5.26.2017

Summer is in full swing and that means the mosquitoes are out in force. Before you make those pesky bugs your biggest enemy, don’t forget about the threat of antibiotic resistance and the current MCR-1 Klebsiella outbreak in China!

Congrats GMU Biodefense Graduates 
Last week we saw several MS and PhD students graduate from GMU’s biodefense program and we couldn’t be more excited to show off their hard work! Earning their MS in biodefense, we’d like to celebrate Kathryn Ake, Rebecca Earnhardt, Nicholas Guerin, Andrew Joyce, Ryan Lockhart, Patrick Lucey, Alison Mann, Jonathon Marioneaux, Scott McAlister, Greg Mercer, Katheryn Payton, Dana Saft, Colleen Tangney, and Anupama Varma. Earning their PhD in biodefense, we’re celebrating Keith W. Ludwick (Dissertation title: The Legend of the Lone Wolf: Categorizing Singular and Small Group Terrorism), Nereyda Sevilla (Germs on a Plane: The Transmission and Risks of Airplane-Borne Diseases), and Craig Wiener (Penetrate, Exploit, Disrupt, Destroy: The Rise of Computer Network Operations as a Major Military Innovation). Congrats to our biodefense graduates – we can’t wait to see what wonderful things you’ll accomplish in global health security!

U.S. Investment in Global Health Security  – The Good and The Bad
Whether it be an intentional, accidental, or natural biological event, infectious diseases can devastate local economies and populations. “Catastrophic” is a term commonly used for such events. Disease knows no borders or boundaries, which means that our global health security is only as strong as the weakest link. To aid in the stability of global health security, the State Department funds projects around the world to help improve biosafety and biosecurity. The philosophy is that if we can train local trainers to establish expertise and biorisk programs, it would lay the foundation for biosecurity/biosafety for the future. “The State Department carefully evaluates and selects the most impactful projects for each region, pairing local needs with appropriate subject matter expertise. One source of such expertise is Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), which has received State Department funding to implement numerous health security projects. Just this April, Lora Grainger, working at the Labs’ International Biological and Chemical Threat Reduction (IBCTR), travelled to Algeria to train Algerian trainers on a project funded by the State Department. Participants included scientists working in Algeria’s national network of laboratories managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Institut National de Médecine Véterinaire (INMV).” This partnership is just one of many and involves education that is tailored to the skills and needs of those being trained. Global health security is bigger than any one country and it’s vital to not only strengthen our own practices, but also facilitate its development in countries that might not have all the resources needed. Speaking of U.S. health security efforts, don’t forget to catch the Operation Whitecoat documentary on the June 1st.                                                                                                                                                              

While these are great efforts the U.S. is putting forward, there is also an internal struggle to maintain public health during a hiring freeze. The freeze was imposed by President Trump’s executive order in late January, which covers currently open positions, blocks transfers, and prevents new positions from being created. It was recently reporting that nearly 700 positions within the CDC are vacant due to the ongoing hiring freeze. “Like HHS, the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have maintained the freeze as a way of reducing their workforces and reshaping organizational structures after a directive last month from the Office of Management and Budget that said all federal agencies must submit a plan by June 30 to shrink their civilian workforces. HHS, State and EPA also face significant cuts in the Trump administration’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The administration, which unveiled a ‘skinny budget‘ for fiscal 2018 in March, is scheduled to release its full budget next week. A senior CDC official said unfilled positions include dozens of budget analysts and public health policy analysts, scientists and advisers who provide key administrative support.” A new CDC document notes that at least 125 job categories have been blocked from being filled, which includes positions in the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

Ebola in the DRC – Updates
While we’re honoring researchers and workers for their efforts during the 2014/2015 West Africa outbreak, Ebola continues to rage through the DRC. You can find daily situation reports here from the WHO, as the numbers of reported cases are constantly changing. The WHO is reportedly optimistic that it can contain the outbreak and many are curious to see how the new director general will handle such challenges. The latest situation report from the WHO is pointing to six more cases of Ebola, bringing the total suspected cases to 43. 365 people are currently under monitoring in the DRC. Researchers have also made substantial progress towards understanding how Ebola disables the immune system so effectively. In response to this latest outbreak, the WHO is requesting funding to ensure adequate response to the DRC outbreak.

Pandemics, BT, & Global Health Security Workshop – Instructor Spotlight
We’re excited to announce that Kendall Hoyt is our instructor spotlight this week! Dr. Hoyt is an Assistant Professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth where she studies U.S. biodefense policy and biomedical R&D strategy. She is also a lecturer at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College where she teaches a course on technology and biosecurity. She is the author of Long Shot: Vaccines for National Defense, Harvard University Press, 2012. She serves on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Department of Defense’s Programs to Counter Biological Threats and on the advisory board of the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. Kendall Hoyt received her Ph.D. in the History and Social Study of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2002 and was a Fellow in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government from 2002-2004. Prior to obtaining her degree, she worked in the International Security and International Affairs division of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Washington DC office of McKinsey and Company, and the Center for the Management of Innovation and Technology at the National University of Singapore. Did I mention that she’s also done work on Ebola and has written extensively about medical countermeasures for the disease? Dr. Hoyt is not only an expert on biosecurity and the impact of technology, but will take students through the journey of medical countermeasures and security.

The Finish Line in Ending Pandemics and The Future of the WHO
The recent election of a new WHO director-general highlights the current global shift in priorities, and yet the reality is that we’re still fighting an uphill battle against infectious disease and the threat of a pandemic. Recent decades have shown that outbreaks have been increasingly common, taking advantage of globalization, growing populations, and spillover. Avian influenza has been knocking at the door for a while…while bursts of Ebola and SARS have shaken global health security to its core. MERS has also triggered such events in hospitals, leaving no environment safe from emerging infectious diseases. The list of worrying viral diseases has also grown and taught us a rather painful truth – pandora’s box is already open and every time we think we’ve closed it…we realize the seal just isn’t that tight. “Dynamic, rapidly evolving viral threats emerge with increasing frequency, exploiting new pathways in endless pursuit of their biologic imperative. These viruses are the paradigm of adaptive learning. Pushing and probing at our defenses, they shift to new hosts, opportunistically hijack transmission routes, and acquire capacities to evade immune detection. They are subject to no rules of engagement, and their viral intelligence is anything but artificial”. Our new strategy is now to strengthen our detection efforts and to build up response processes. Many have highlighted that what we’ve seen is just a small percentage of what’s out there, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep our heads buried in the sand forever. The future of international disease response will change with the appointment of the new WHO director-general, especially for poor countries dependent upon resources. On Tuesday, it was announced that Ethiopia’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was voted director-general. Dr. Ghebreyesus is the first ever African director-general and brings to the position a long history of health stewardship as a former health minister in Ethiopia. Not only is this election particularly significant as the future of the WHO will be heavily weighed against its failures in recent years, but recent accusations against the newly elected director-general have created further doubts as to the stability of the organization.

Double-edged Sword Research
A new report from the Swiss Academies of Art & Sciences is drawing attention to the need for continued conversation and engagement about the potential for misuse in life sciences. As a result of the workshop, a report was developed highlighting “six issues that should be considered when designing, conducting, and communicating research projects. Each issue is illustrated with examples from actual research projects.” In fact, CRISPR inventor, Jennifer Doudna, is drawing attention to the promises and perils of the gene-editing technology. She points to the worries of creating designer embryos while contrasting the promises of reducing mosquito-transmitted diseases. In fact, recent work has shown some promise in using CRISPR to fight HIV. “Part of the problem is HIV’s ability to squirrel itself away inside a cell’s DNA – including the DNA of the immune cells that are supposed to be killing it. The same ability, though, could be HIV’s undoing. ast week, a group of biologists published research detailing how they hid an anti-HIV CRISPR system inside another type of virus capable of sneaking past a host’s immune system. What’s more, the virus replicated and snipped HIV from infected cells along the way.” While this work has only been done in mice and rats, the concept is promising. Overall, these advances bring about exciting future possibilities, but it’s important to remember that there are dangers too – whether it be tampering with human evolution, contaminated CRISPR kits, nefarious actors using them for terrorism, etc. The complexities of CRISPR and genetic engineering are only growing, which makes the 2018 arrival of the peer-reviewed publication, The CRISPR Journal, even more relevant.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • Model Systems and the Need For Curiosity-Driven Science– GMU Biodefense PhD student, Saskia Popescu, is looking at the importance of model systems and picking the brain of a top researcher in the field, Dr. Julie Pfeiffer. “Poliovirus is great to use to create model systems because not only does it grow easily, but it is also relatively safe due to vaccination for lab workers, not to mention that we have a pretty solid understanding of the virus based off a century of working with it. ‘We know a lot about poliovirus and we have great tools in our toolbox. If you’re going to tackle a tough problem, it helps to have a great toolbox. For other fields, the ideal toolbox may be fruit flies, worms, or yeast. Collectively, these model systems have illuminated biology and have led to major advancements in human health.’ stated Dr. Pfeiffer in her recent PLOS Pathogens article on the importance of model systems.” “Firstly, I asked if she thought there were other eradicated or ‘almost’ eradicated diseases that could make decent models. She replied, ‘No. We use poliovirus as a model system because of its great tractability, safety, and ease of use (not because it’s nearly eradicated). [Other eradicated diseases such as] smallpox and rinderpest would not be good model systems because they have been completely eradicated from circulation, making biosafety and tractability major issues. [That being said,] if the poliovirus eradication campaign is successful, the idea is to stop vaccination. If this happens, poliovirus will likely become a BSL3/4 agent and I will no longer work with it’.”
  • Is Your Daycare Prepared For a Pandemic?– Daycare centers may not be your first thought when it comes to pandemic preparedness, however a recent survey found that fewer than one in ten U.S. centers have taken steps to prepare for a pandemic flu event. “Researchers surveyed directors of licensed childcare centers in 2008 and again in 2016, to assess flu prevention measures before and after the 2009 pandemic outbreak of a new strain of H1N1 influenza. Among other things, they looked at flu prevention activities like daily health checks for kids, infection control training for staff, communicating with parents about illness and immunization requirements for children and staff.” Children are great sources for disease transmission and when guardians are needed at work, childcare capacity will be extremely important if a pandemic flu occurs.

 

Pandora Report 10.28.2016

A leaked report to the UN Security Council from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, states that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave the order for the use of chemical weapons in 2015. The ECDC is seeing the initial cases for the 2015/2016 flu season, so make sure to get your flu shot! Science is sharing six science lessons for the next president. A new study finds that the correct antibiotics are only given half the time for common infections. Make sure to celebrate One Health Day on November 3rd!

Spillover: Ebola & Beyond Film Screening and Discussion
Don’t miss this great event at the National Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, November 15th from 6:30-8:30pm. If you loved the PBS documentary this summer, now is your chance to listen to a panel of experts discuss how they track diseases internationally and locally. “The film extends to the new frontiers of disease detection, prevention, and containment, and travels the world with virus hunters who are tracking old enemies while vigilantly looking out for new foes.” Featured speakers will include Vanessa van der Linden, Anthony Fauci, Yvonne-Marie Linton, and LaQuandra S. Nesbitt. Make sure to register before the event if you’d like to attend.

iow-zoonoses-onpgIf you enjoyed the Spillover documentary, check out this one (from the same team at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who brought you Spillover) on Nipah virus hunters and their use of bat populations to track the disease. It’s a great film on epidemiology, One Health, and how we can study diseases in bat populations to predict outbreaks in humans. The HHMI has all sorts of wonderful disease-tracking goodies, like this one on the patterns of zoonotic diseases or an interactive on viruses. HHMI has some great interactive and fascinating learning tools for adults and children alike. Nothing like a little zoonotic disease lesson before bedtime, right?

MetaBiota Presentation for GMU Students 14875059_1343053735705798_1059784359_n
This week GMU was fortunate to hold an informational session by MetaBiota in which Dr. Kimberly Dodd discussed the organization and what life is like working on shifting emerging infectious disease response to prevention. GMU Biodefense MS student Greg Mercer was able to  listen to her experiences that range from the front lines of virus chasing to work on PREDICT and the factors that lead to zoonotic spillover. Dr. Dodd deployed to Uganda as part of the CDC’s response to the 2012 Marburg virus outbreak and to Sierra Leone during the West African Ebola outbreak. She described the challenges of trying to set up a BSL-4 equivalent laboratory in the field and the stressed of working with dangerous pathogens and noted that even in an outbreak of a high fear-factor disease like Ebola, there is often an international outpouring of volunteers. Experts are enthusiastic to help both for humanitarian reasons and the promise of cutting edge research to be done. Her experiences responding to outbreaks in the field prompted her interest in what preventative measures can be taken to forecast, identify, and mitigate outbreaks faster. She described her work on USAID’s PREDICT project, which seeks to catalogue viruses with potential to become pandemics. In its first 5 years, PREDICT sampled 56,000 animals, ran 400,000 diagnostics, and detected 984 unique viruses, 815 of which were novel. This new data was fed into Healthmap. In later pahses, PREDICT will go on to more closely examine the human-animal dynamics of spillover events.

Fears and Misperceptions of the Ebola Response System during 2014/2015 Outbreak in Sierra Leone
We’re still learning lessons from the worst Ebola outbreak in history, but will we actually apply this knowledge or continue to make the same mistakes? Public perception of public health response systems is a vastly important aspect of any outbreak response, however researchers are pointing to the severity it had on containment in 2014/2015. This study focuses on Sierra Leone and the barriers that prevented people from trusting and utilizing the Ebola response system that was established during the height of the outbreak. Researchers found that most people feared calling the national hotline for some one they believed to have Ebola as it would result in that person’s death. People tended to self medicate if they developed a fever and assumed it was not Ebola. “Fears and misperceptions, related to lack of trust in the response system, may have delayed care-seeking during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Protocols for future outbreak responses should incorporate dynamic, qualitative research to understand and address people’s perception”

Estimating the BioTech Sector’s Contribution to the U.S. Economy screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-2-44-22-am
While the biotech sector has opened the floor for questions over dual-use, there’s no denying its growth. U.S. biotech sector revenue is estimated to have grown on average more than 10% per year over the past decade, which is faster than the rest of the economy..much faster. Data collected from various public and private sources allowed Robert Carlson to pain a much larger picture of what biotech is contributing to the U.S. economy. He found that total domestic U.S. revenue generated by biotech in 2012 reached at least $324 billion, which is the equivalent of >2% of GDP. Biotech revenue growth was >5% of annual U.S. GDP growth every year between 2007 and 2012. While the field is obviously growing, the rapid acceleration also means that there will be decreasing costs and more access to more powerful technology. “Governments around the globe are grappling with the desire to benefit from biotech-driven economic development, while simultaneously facing questions about who should have access to which technology and under what circumstances.” It’s important to not only support and monitor the technologies, but also facilitate data and reporting within the industry as these measurement deficiencies fuels biosecurity concerns. “Alongside the preexisting bioeconomy, we are building a system composed of inherently ‘dual-use’ engineering technologies that will constitute critical infrastructure for the future economy. Assuming that the revenue and growth estimates above are borne out with improved measurement and analysis, biosecurity is now clearly synonymous with economic security. The focus of biosecurity policy must shift from protecting specific targets from specific threats to securing the bioeconomy as a system that increasingly drives economic growth and employment and, ultimately, enables humans to thrive on a global scale.”

Hospitals Add Sinks to Help Fight Infections – Bad Move
Adding more easily accessible hand washing stations is one of the strategies to combating poor compliance and growing infection rates. Unfortunately, there have been some unintended consequences of upping the sink volume. Several hospitals throughout Baltimore, the Netherlands, and Shanghai have noted an increase in infections after adding more sinks (especially in patient rooms). Biofilms were a growing issue, which draws attention to the importance of facility and environmental service maintenance. I was a bit disparaged to see that the article points to the presence of non-sterile water from sinks in rooms with immunocompromised patients. Patients that are severely neutropenic are usually placed into positive pressure rooms (under protective precautions) and almost all hem-oncology units have special water filters on everything in the patient’s room (shower, sink, etc.). The concern for legionella is always an issue for those with weakened immune systems and while it’s important to cut down as much environmental exposure as possible, it’s impractical to think there should be sterile water. Another aspect of this is that patients in pre-op immune-suppression or post-op recovery will be exposed to germs – it’s a simple fact. If you’re concerned about sinks, then the patient should either be in a protective precautions room or you should not allow visitors. A sink is a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to patients that aren’t severely neutropenic. Sink design and cleaning is hugely important, which is another component to hospital infection control as anytime water is temporarily shut off, there needs to be water treatment plans in place, etc. It’s nice to see attention being brought to the environmental aspects of sinks and infection control, however one big aspect of the problem is also that people typically don’t wash their hands correctly. Yes, most people don’t spend the 15-20 seconds correctly lathering, washing all the nooks and crannies of their hands, etc. Needless to say, it takes a village to stop an infection and just one tiny moment to cause one – sinks are just one piece of the pie.

Terrorists Hamper Polio Eradication Efforts in Africa salk_headlines
Global eradication of a disease is never easy, however efforts to rid Africa of polio have encountered barriers that are allowing the disease to resurge. Nigeria has seen lingering polio as a result of “porous borders and shifting populations where travel has been blocked by terrorism.” Despite consistent work and effort to eradicate the disease from Nigeria, it was re-declared endemic in August, which leaves many concerned about it spilling over borders into neighboring countries. While Nigeria has always been a hotspot for polio, there has been increasing religious preaching that parents should not allow vaccination, specifically Muslim imams in Kano state in 2003, claiming that the vaccine had been contaminated to hurt Islamic children. Distrust compounds into lagging vaccination rates and during this time there was a spike in cases, which was coupled with terrorist activity by the Book Haram militia. “They cut off entire provinces, blocking the access needed by teams vaccinating children and epidemiologists counting cases. When the Nigerian military forced the militia out of parts of Borno state, in Nigeria’s northeast corner, the polio campaign discovered that wild polio virus had been circulating there for years.” The area around Lake Chad – Chad, Cameroon, and Niger – all pose problematic for vaccination efforts as the WHO calls the situation a “complex emergency” with more than 150,000 people fleeing across national borders. Despite these challenges, the governments of Nigeria and five nearby countries have initiated a massive emergency vaccination campaign that covers more than five million children per round, of which they’ll perform six rounds. “That may be an even more difficult task than in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In those countries, most of the areas where polio survives are remote, with little traffic in or out. Nigeria, on the other hand, is the most populous country in Africa, and a crossroads for the rest of the continent. There is no quick fix that can make the risk of onward spread go away; it requires yet more of the hard, grinding, repetitive work that eradication campaigners have been doing for almost 30 years.”

Zika Virus – What’s the Latest?
Brits are being warned not to travel to Florida after two British journalists contracted Zika during their travel to the state. The Florida state health department has released their Zika data– there are four new travel associated cases and nine non-travel associated cases. Wellcome Trust medical research charity is warning that we should expect Zika to reach India and Africa. “I think we can anticipate global spread,” said Jeremy Farrar, speaking to the Guardian alongside Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the chief executive officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Given the [Aedes aegypti] mosquito’s availability across the world, I think the spread will next be across Asia and I think we really have to be prepared for it spreading in Africa. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.” The WHO has released their Zika Research Agenda here, with a goal of “supporting the generation of evidence needed to strengthen essential public health guidance and actions to prevent and limit the impact of Zika virus and its complications”. Scientists are still bewildered by Zika’s path through Latin America as cases continue to grow. The CDC has reported 4,091 cases of Zika in the U.S. as of October 26th.

Stories You May Have Missed:

  • The Antibiotic Era Review – Infectious disease physician Amesh Adalja is discussing Dr. Scott Podolsky’s most recent book on antimicrobial resistance. As the realities of microbial resistance grows larger and gains more attention, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a solely modern issue. Dr. Adalja notes that the book should be required for anyone in the field as it takes great care to incorporate details that paint the larger picture of infectious diseases and antibiotics. “As Podolosky illustrates, in the post WWII era, civilization caused infectious diseases to recede in the US at the same time scores of new treatments (i.e. antibiotics) were coming to the market and experts who knew the (now rare) bug and the drugs used to treat them were valuable.” Adding it to our holiday reading list, thanks for the tip Dr. Adalja!
  • Climate & Evolutionary Drivers of Phase Shifts in Plague Epidemics of Colonial India – A recent study is looking at the climatic and evolutionary forces that impact plague epidemics. Researchers looked at the arrival of plague in colonial India through archival data and were able to identify the evolution of resistance in rats as a significant driver of the shifts within seasonal outbreaks. The findings “substantiate the rapid emergence of host heterogeneity and show how evolutionary responses can buffer host populations against environmentally forced disease dynamics.”
  • 2nd International Who’s Who in One Health Webinar – Don’t miss the One Health Commissions’ upcoming webinar on November 4th, 2016. This webinar is a great place to take part in dialogue with One Health leaders, advocates, professionals, and students The webinar is set to start at 7:45am EST and seeks to create new strategic partnerships and networks for collective, purposeful and coordinated action and educate participants about the One Health paradigm and ways of thinking towards improved health outcomes

Pandora Report 8.23.15

We’re starting this update with some big blog news, are you sitting down? This will actually be the last weekend update…at least for a while. We’re in discussion with how to proceed with the blog and social media for GMU Biodefense. Please check back at pandorareport.org and on twitter @PandoraReport for updates as they happen.

Looking back, there have been times since I’ve started as managing editor that the news has been sad, or, frankly, downright depressing. So, for this edition, lets focus on some of the good in the world. The first story comes from (probably the nicest human on the face of the Earth) Jimmy Carter. We’ve also got good news about Polio. Then, of course, we’ve got stories you may have missed.

Thank you for reading… and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jimmy Carter Wants to See the Last Guinea Worm Die Before He Does

This week, former President Jimmy Carter announced that his cancer had spread to his brain. Though many members of his immediate family died from cancer, Carter said “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes.” Rather than fear or sadness over his diagnosis, Carter instead focused on meeting one of the long-term goals of his nonprofit organization—the Carter Center—the eradication of Guinea worm. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its work there were 3.5 million cases of across 21 countries. In 2014 there were 126 cases; today, there are 11.

The Huffington Post—“When Guinea worm has been eradicated, it will be only the second time in human history that a disease has been totally wiped out. The first, smallpox, was eradicated in 1977, according to the World Health Organization. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Guinea worm will meet the same fate — a final piece in Carter’s legacy.”

WHO Declares Africa Free of ‘Wild’ Cases of Polio

According to the World Health Organization, Africa has been free of wild cases of Polio since July. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases on the continent; there is still ongoing work in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, but transmission of the illness has been interrupted. The director of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative has said that even though Africa is now free of wild cases, there are still challenges when it comes to eradication, for example, surveillance of the disease.

io9—“The goal of the Initiative has been to interrupt the natural transmission (wild cases) of the virus, which seems to be the case so far. The next step, according to WHO, will be to continue to monitor the region for additional cases. If none appear in the next two years, the continent will be certified Polio-Free.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Commonwealth Club

Pandora Report 7.26.15

Mason students are working through their summer courses and I’m happy to say mine is OVER! Let the summer begin (two months late)! This week we’ve got great news about Polio in Nigeria and a somber anniversary in Japan. We’ve also got other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week!

A-Bomb Victims Remembered in Potsdam, Where Truman Ordered Nuclear Strikes

Coming up on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, German and Japanese citizens in the city of Potsdam held a remembrance ceremony for both the victims that died in the blast and the future. Japan has become, according to the former President of the International Court of Justice, the world’s conscience against nuclear weapons and power. Why? Japan is “the only country in the world to have been the victim of both military and civilian nuclear energy, having experienced the crazy danger of the atom, both in its military applications, destruction of life and its beneficial civilian use, which has now turned into a nightmare with the serious incidents of Fukushima.”

Japan Times—“The Potsdam Conference was held between July 17 and Aug. 2 in 1945. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and another bomb on Nagasaki three days later. On Aug. 15 that year, Emperor Hirohito announced to the nation that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration, in which the United States, Britain and China demanded the nation’s unconditional surrender.”

Nigeria Beats Polio

Very, very, very exciting news: Nigeria has not had a case of polio in a year. A year! This makes Nigeria polio free and the last country in Africa to eliminate the disease. The achievement was possible with contributions from the Nigerian government (where elimination of the disease was a point of “national pride”), UNICEF, the WHO, the CDC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and other organizations. With Nigeria’s accomplishment, there are only two other countries in the world where polio still exists—Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Voice of America—“Carol Pandek heads Rotary International’s polio program. She told VOA via Skype that a year being polio-free is a milestone for Nigeria, but noted that it is not over. “Now they need to continue to do high quality immunization campaigns for the next several years,” she said, as well as have a strong surveillance system so, should there be any new cases, they can be identified as soon as possible.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: Fg2

Pandora Report 7.11.15

Sorry for the late update here at Pandora Report. We’ve got how the plague turned so deadly, an Ebola update, and of course other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

These Two Mutations Turned Not-so-Deadly Bacteria Into the Plague

Researchers at Northwestern University have been investigating how Yersinia pestis—the bacteria that causes bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague—became the infective cause of the Black Death. They discovered two mutations that help to explain the bacteria’s lethality.

Smithsonian.com—“The first mutation gave the bacteria the ability to make a protein called Pla. Without Pla, Y. pestis couldn’t infect the lungs. The second mutation allowed the bacteria to enter deeper into the bodies, say through a bite, to infect blood and the lymphatic system. In other words, first the plague grew deadly, then it found a way to leap more easily from infected fleas or rodents to humans.

Ebola Strain Found on Teen in Liberia Genetically Similar to Viruses in Same Area Months Ago

I’m sure you’ve heard that there were three new cases of Ebola in Liberia—a country that was declared free of the disease on May 9. According to the World Health Organization, samples taken from a teenager who died from Ebola two weeks prior indicate that the disease is genetically similar to strains that infected people in the same area over six months ago—while the outbreak was still ongoing.

US News and World Report—“That finding by genetic sequencing suggests it is unlikely the virus was caught from travel to infected areas of Guinea or Sierra Leone, the group said. “It also makes it unlikely that this has been caused by a new emergence from a natural reservoir, such as a bat or other animal,” it said.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: en.wikipedia