Trump's NIH Just Expanded the Study of Certain Viruses, But Did They Put Humanity at Risk?

Andie Vaught, 25, grasps a stress toy in the shape of a truck as she prepares to have her blood drawn by phlebotomist Catina Boyd as part of a clinical trial for a Zika vaccine at the National Institute of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, November 21, 2016. (Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Each year, the epidemiology community keeps a close eye on the flu, a virus that is famous for mutating and changing in its severity and ability to spread. This year is an especially auspicious year for contemplating influenza: 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 killed millions of people around the world. Studying these viruses can alert the medical and scientific communities in time to stop such an outbreak from devastating humanity again.

However, studying viruses can be a tricky business. In 2014, University of Wisconsin flu experts created a “mutant” version of the 1918 flu virus, and discovered that strains of the original 1918 version still exist in the environment. Since even the strictest lab protocols can’t promise that such a virus won’t escape, this development sparked debate which prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to issue a moratorium on continued studies on infectious diseases. Scientists argued that if we don’t study viruses, we won’t understand how to combat them when they inevitably occur in human and agricultural populations.


"Because avian influenza viruses in nature require only a few changes to adapt to humans and cause a pandemic, it is important to understand the mechanisms involved in adaptation and identify the key mutations so we can be better prepared," said U of W researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka.

In December 2017, the NIH lifted the research moratorium, which affected less than two dozen experiments on three types of virus: influenza, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, and severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS virus. Some consider it a win for science, in a year that saw such widespread crackdowns on scientific research and information sharing that the Trump administration was accused of waging a war on science with its aggressive and far-reaching bans on climate science, environmental science, and health science, particularly in areas where scientific findings about health and safety threatened to complicate commercial interests.

“I believe nature is the ultimate bio-terrorist and we need to do all we can to stay one step ahead,” said Sam Stanley, President of Stony Brook University and chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity which helped develop the framework for the lifted ban.

Many scientists have raised concerns about experiments involving pathogens that could, even with the most stringent precautions, theoretically escape the lab and pose threats to the general population. The H1N1 influenza strain that circulated from 1977 to 2009 is believed to have originated from a laboratory accident, and in 2014, the CDC closed labs responsible for releasing bird flu and anthrax into the environment. Called gain-of-function (GOF) experiments, the studies aim to understand genetic changes that can make viruses such as the flu easier to transmit.

But some scientists say the viruses could begin that transmission process in the lab. “I am not persuaded that the work is of greater potential benefit than potential harm,” said molecular biologist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University, who says that U.S. labs working with dangerous pathogens suffer regular safety breaches and viruses could infect a lab worker, who would next infect people outside of the lab.

Such a safety or security breach could, theoretically, even be intentional. Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said a virus doesn’t necessarily have to leave the lab to pose a threat. The information gained through research could itself could get into the wrong hands, and should be partially classified, he said.

“If someone finds a way to make the Ebola virus more dangerous, I don’t believe that should be available to anybody off the street who could use it for nefarious purposes,” he said.

So what happens then? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which issued a framework to guide the lifted ban on research of pandemic pathogens (PPPs), does not offer guidance for situations in which viruses escape from the lab. However, it does provide a clause in which parties would agree to stop all activities in case an accident occurs.

Sleep tight.

C-SPAN

If you think Fox News is the most loyal network to President Donald Trump, you likely haven't heard of One America News Network, or OAN.

The unabashedly pro-Trump network—largely considered a far-Right fringe outlet—has enjoyed expanded viewership over recent years thanks to glowing reviews from the President.

It's even been added to the prestigious White House press pool.

People were reminded of the network's bizarre Trump-era ascension during Monday's White House press briefing regarding the pandemic that—at the time of this writing—has resulted in over 3,000 deaths across the United States.

OAN's White House correspondent Chanel Rion compared the growing number of deaths from the pandemic to abortion procedures, asking Trump if abortions should be suspended all together.

The question flummoxed Trump himself.

Watch below.

Rion said:

"2,405 Americans have died from [the virus] in the last 60 days. Meanwhile, you have 2,369 children who are killed by their mothers through elective abortions each day. That's 16 and a half thousand children killed every week. Two states have suspended elective abortion to make more resources available...Should more states be doing the same?"

Even Trump seemed confused by the question, and notably didn't wade into the abortion aspect of the question:

"I think what we're doing, we're trying to, as a group ,governors—and that's Republicans and Democrats—we're just working together to solve this problem. What you're mentioning has been going on for a long time and it's a sad event, a lot of sad events in this country. But what we're doing now is working on the virus...and I think we're doing a great job—as good a job as you can possibly do."

People noticed that even Trump—either purposely or otherwise—didn't take the bait from one of his favorite networks.




Rion, who is Asian-American, previously made headlines when she asked Trump—who'd been criticized for describing the virus as "Chinese Virus"—if the phrase "Chinese food" was racist.

Her questions, while satiating viewers who prioritize "owning the libs" over potentially lifesaving information, have only confirmed the degradation of the press corps under the Trump era.




OAN's only redeemable quality? It doesn't claim to be "fair and balanced."


Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images // Duffy-Marie Arnoult/WireImage

Even in the face of a global pandemic, President Donald Trump hasn't dispensed with his typical pettiness.

The President made that perfectly clear on Sunday afternoon, as deaths caused by the national health crisis continued to increase.

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JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images // Hernando County Sheriff

After weeks of dismissing the current pandemic as little more than a flu overblown by the media to undermine his presidency, President Donald Trump and his administration are finally beginning to acknowledge the severity of the threat posed by the virus that's upended daily life in the United States.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne apparently hadn't gotten that memo.

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Donald Trump held his pandemic press briefing in the Rose Garden on Sunday—but his mood was far from rosy.

One particularly heated exchange came when he took a question from PBS NewsHour's White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor.

Alcindor asked Trump about the the skepticism he expressed that New York—the epicenter of the health crisis facing the United States—was exaggerating the number of lifesaving ventilators it needs to help curb the virus.

Trump interrupted Alcindor, claiming he "didn't say" that, then proceeded to berate her for her so-called "threatening" question.

Watch below.

Alcindor asked:

"You've said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment governors are requesting, they don't actually need. You said New York might not need 30 thousand—"

Trump interrupted:

"I didn't say that. I didn't say that. Why don't you people...why don't you act in a little more positive? It's always trying to get me. Getcha, getcha. You know what, that's why nobody trusts the media anymore."

Though the President didn't reciprocate, Alcindor remained professional and repeated her question despite the President's attacks on her journalistic integrity in front of her colleagues.

What's more, Alcindor was right—and video proves it.

Alcindor referred to statements Trump made on far-right Fox News host Sean Hannity's show.

Watch below.

Trump said:

"I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40 thousand or 30 thousand ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, they'll have two ventilators and now all of a sudden they're saying, 'can we have 30 thousand ventilators?'"

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has made clear that New York has yet to reach the height of the pandemic. The current number of ventilators is not enough to treat all of the infections to come, which could force doctors into rationing them and choosing not to treat patients with less optimistic prognoses.

Alcindor later pointed out that Trump did, in fact, express skepticism that New York was asking for ventilators they didn't need.

People called Trump out for responding to his own words with petty attacks.



They praised Alcindor for holding him accountable when so many others won't.




This was far from the first time Trump personally attacked Alcindor for doing her job.

Astonishingly, Trump denied his own words again in the same press conference when CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond asked Trump to elaborate on his Friday statements that governors aren't being "appreciative" enough of him and his administration.

If a President isn't beholden to congressional oversight, basic transparency, and even his own words, how can he be beholden to the American people?

For more stories of Trump's ineptitude from people who were there, check out A Very Stable Genius, available here.

Fox News

As the apex of the current pandemic looms in the United States, more and more Americans have begun working from home in an effort to slow the virus.

Television hosts aren't an exception to this—including far-Right Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro, whose performance on air this past Saturday night seemed a bit...off.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The health crisis in the United States continues to worsen in the face of the global pandemic, passing the 100,000 mark of confirmed virus cases—just days after earning the grim distinction of having more cases than any other country in the world.

Due to a dire shortage of lifesaving medical equipment, governors across the country are imploring the federal government to invoke its powers to compel private companies to manufacture more equipment and oversee distribution of what's already available.

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