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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Columbus
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Oxford
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 57°
Starkville
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather