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: 22947

Reported Deaths: 977
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin7695581
Ramsey2698110
Stearns199512
Nobles14963
Anoka128963
Dakota120249
Olmsted58210
Washington57630
Kandiyohi4761
Rice4232
Clay41625
Scott3832
Todd2960
Wright2801
Mower2311
Sherburne2222
Carver1892
Benton1733
Steele1490
Blue Earth1261
Martin1265
St. Louis11714
Freeborn1020
Unassigned9410
Pine890
Nicollet827
Winona7815
Carlton730
Cottonwood690
Watonwan640
Otter Tail630
Goodhue603
Polk592
Crow Wing591
Chisago541
Itasca548
Dodge460
Le Sueur441
Meeker440
Chippewa441
Morrison410
Jackson390
Douglas390
Lyon380
Murray360
Becker360
Isanti320
McLeod300
Waseca250
Rock220
Mille Lacs191
Wabasha170
Fillmore171
Pennington170
Swift170
Sibley150
Beltrami140
Brown142
Cass132
Faribault130
Wilkin113
Norman110
Kanabec111
Pipestone100
Marshall90
Wadena80
Pope80
Aitkin70
Koochiching70
Yellow Medicine60
Lincoln50
Mahnomen51
Renville50
Big Stone40
Red Lake40
Redwood40
Clearwater30
Traverse30
Lac qui Parle30
Grant30
Houston20
Roseau20
Hubbard10
Lake10
Kittson10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 18559

Reported Deaths: 506
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3930118
Woodbury267232
Black Hawk172443
Linn94176
Marshall88215
Dallas87517
Buena Vista7020
Johnson6078
Muscatine54941
Wapello5456
Crawford4892
Tama40026
Scott35210
Louisa34210
Dubuque33418
Jasper25816
Pottawattamie2348
Sioux2130
Washington1858
Wright1450
Allamakee1204
Plymouth1191
Warren1160
Story991
Mahaska918
Poweshiek898
Bremer676
Henry671
Clinton601
Des Moines591
Boone570
Taylor490
Guthrie463
Cedar461
Clarke450
Benton391
Monroe385
Jones360
Iowa350
Shelby340
Clayton323
Osceola320
Buchanan320
Webster321
Marion310
Hamilton290
Madison271
Fayette260
Cerro Gordo251
Monona240
Cherokee240
Lee240
Winneshiek230
Davis200
Grundy190
Lyon190
Jefferson190
Harrison190
Floyd181
Sac170
Dickinson160
Mills160
Hardin160
Hancock160
Humboldt150
Butler150
Delaware150
Appanoose143
Ida140
Keokuk140
Greene130
Clay130
Howard120
Audubon121
Emmet120
Lucas120
Cass110
Jackson110
Page110
Winnebago110
Franklin100
Pocahontas100
Carroll90
Van Buren90
Kossuth90
Chickasaw80
Adair80
Union70
Adams70
Montgomery60
Mitchell50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur10
Unassigned10
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