Why the government is creating lethal viruses

The US government on Tuesday lifted a ban on making lethal viruses, saying the research is necessary to "develop stra...

Posted: Dec 20, 2017 10:19 AM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 10:19 AM

The US government on Tuesday lifted a ban on making lethal viruses, saying the research is necessary to "develop strategies and effective countermeasures against rapidly evolving pathogens that pose a threat to public health."

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, made the announcement, in which he outlined a new framework for the controversial research. The work with three viruses can now go forward, but only if a scientific review panel determines that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The government reinstates controversial research to make deadly viruses

If pathogens are mishandled, critics say, millions could be threatened

"We have a responsibility to ensure that research with infectious agents is conducted responsibly, and that we consider the potential biosafety and biosecurity risks associated with such research," Collins said in a statement.

The decision brings an end to a three-year moratorium on research involving the influenza virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (known as SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (or MERS). Critics say the research could unleash a new germ that threatens millions if it is not properly stored or if it escapes from a lab.

The government paused the research in 2014 to review the practices in handling and storing infectious agents. At the time, Collins said that biosafety and biosecurity risks needed to be "understood better."

The pause came after several incidents involving the mishandling of potentially dangerous pathogens at government laboratories.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accidentally exposed dozens of workers to anthrax in 2014, and a subsequent investigation detailed other instances in which lab workers did not follow protocol. Around that time, vials of the deadly smallpox virus were found in a cardboard box in an unsecured refrigerator at the National Institutes of Health's campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

In Tuesday's announcement, the institutes said that approved research would take place only if the researcher and institution where the research is being conducted demonstrate the "capacity and commitment to conduct it safely and securely, and have the ability to respond rapidly" should things go wrong.

It also said that the research must be "ethically justifiable" and that any pathogen created, transferred or used in the research "must be reasonably judged to be a credible source of a potential future human pandemic."

Dr. Tom Frieden, who was the director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017, applauded Tuesday's decision, saying such studies "help scientists better understand how dangerous organisms work, with the ultimate goal of learning how to stop them."

"There's benefit to be gained from this research, but only if lab safety is a top priority and limited to a small group of highly trained staff," said Frieden, who now serves as president and CEO of the initiative Resolve to Save Lives.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 62993

Reported Deaths: 1731
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin19873842
Ramsey7827270
Dakota4610106
Anoka3841115
Stearns292820
Washington222748
Olmsted179123
Nobles17777
Scott163422
Mower11112
Rice10468
Blue Earth9465
Wright9185
Carver8993
Clay79440
Sherburne75310
Kandiyohi7141
St. Louis62120
Todd4302
Lyon4263
Watonwan3671
Freeborn3611
Nicollet35613
Steele3562
Benton3253
Winona26616
Beltrami2640
Crow Wing25214
Le Sueur2301
McLeod2240
Martin2105
Chisago2091
Goodhue2059
Otter Tail2044
Cottonwood1780
Becker1621
Pipestone1589
Polk1564
Waseca1561
Carlton1470
Itasca14612
Douglas1442
Isanti1370
Unassigned13546
Dodge1310
Pine1290
Murray1251
Chippewa1171
Morrison941
Wabasha930
Brown922
Faribault920
Meeker872
Rock860
Sibley862
Koochiching833
Cass802
Jackson790
Pennington751
Mille Lacs733
Fillmore720
Renville675
Lincoln610
Grant563
Swift561
Roseau530
Yellow Medicine530
Pope480
Houston450
Aitkin411
Norman400
Kanabec372
Redwood370
Hubbard360
Wilkin353
Marshall290
Wadena280
Mahnomen271
Big Stone250
Red Lake240
Lake220
Stevens180
Clearwater140
Traverse130
Lac qui Parle80
Cook50
Lake of the Woods40
Kittson30

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 50230

Reported Deaths: 955
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk10612210
Woodbury377052
Black Hawk320066
Linn245689
Johnson213820
Dallas193235
Buena Vista180012
Scott176815
Dubuque173431
Marshall145627
Pottawattamie136729
Story118915
Wapello93435
Muscatine86048
Webster8498
Crawford7393
Cerro Gordo65617
Sioux6533
Warren5861
Tama55729
Jasper48427
Wright4821
Plymouth47912
Clinton4344
Dickinson3844
Louisa37814
Washington30510
Boone2723
Franklin25512
Hamilton2551
Bremer2337
Clarke2063
Clay2021
Carroll2012
Des Moines1992
Emmet1934
Shelby1881
Hardin1860
Marion1830
Floyd1673
Benton1621
Jackson1601
Poweshiek1608
Allamakee1584
Mahaska14217
Henry1404
Guthrie1385
Buchanan1351
Cedar1351
Jones1352
Butler1312
Lee1294
Madison1282
Hancock1242
Humboldt1241
Delaware1231
Lyon1232
Pocahontas1212
Harrison1131
Cherokee1101
Clayton1093
Winneshiek1021
Page1000
Taylor1000
Iowa981
Kossuth970
Mills941
Monona920
Winnebago920
Palo Alto910
Fayette900
Calhoun872
Cass871
Jefferson870
Sac860
Osceola850
Grundy831
Union811
Mitchell800
Monroe758
Lucas734
Worth680
Davis612
Montgomery614
Chickasaw600
Appanoose523
Howard510
Fremont450
Greene420
Keokuk401
Adair380
Van Buren381
Ida330
Audubon291
Decatur270
Ringgold231
Wayne211
Adams170
Unassigned20
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