There’s been a vote —and we have new regulations. Whether or not those regulations protect the American people from another COVID-19 outbreak is still very much up for debate…
On Friday, The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a panel within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), voted on a set of safety regulations to limit gain-of-function research —the modification of pathogens to make a virus more deadly towards humans.
Oversight was extended to less dangerous pathogens. Additionally, according to The Daily Caller, the board voted to “[get] rid of exemptions for certain research goals (like vaccine development or surveilling potential pandemic outbreaks) and holding research conducted outside the U.S. to the same standards as research done at home.”
Sounds great, right? But many scientists doubt the new regulations will have any impact on safety at all; “The NSABB recommendations fall short — far short — of providing effective oversight of research on enhanced potential pandemic pathogens,” Dr. Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist, told The Daily Caller.
“The NSABB recommendations do not address the most crucial limitation of current oversight: the fact that funding agencies fail to identify, flag, and forward ePPP-research projects for review by the HHS P3CO Committee,” he added.
That’s a lot of inside jargon, but what Ebright is saying is dangerous pathogen projects still won’t get flagged and forwarded to the Department of Health and Human Services.
According to The Daily Caller, “Ebright is among a group of experts who have criticized the NIH for not conducting effective oversight on GoF research, particularly as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some proponents of the lab-leak theory of COVID-19’s origin argue that NIH-funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was altering bat viruses to make them more dangerous, may have led to the outbreak of the global pandemic.”
“Even with these many important recommendations made in the ‘Proposed Biosecurity Oversight Framework for the Future of Science’ document, we are seriously concerned the document does not yet address several of the most important recommendations from our July document,” five prominent scientists told the NSABB in a Jan. 26 letter.
“Fundamentally, we also remain concerned that the new NSABB draft recommendations do not spell out who decides, and at what stage, which proposals need to be subject to department-level review,” wrote David Relman of Stanford, Marc Lipsitch of Harvard, and Tom Inglesby, Anita Cicero and Jaspreet Pannu of Johns Hopkins.
The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy will decide the final fate of the new regulations, but it already sounds like they don’t go far enough.