PathogensThe Risk of Lab-Created, Potentially Pandemic Pathogens

Published 17 September 2021

In 20212, researchers published studies on making avian influenza contagious through the air among mammals. This debate on developing pathogenic threats for research purposes led the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. The threat of an accidental release of lab-enhanced pathogens remains high.

In 2012, the research work of Ron Fouchier and Yoshihiro Kawaoka “renewed the debate over whether potential pandemic virus research is too dangerous to conduct.” These researchers published “studies on making avian influenza contagious through the air among mammals.” At the time of publication, highly pathogenic avian influenza, or H5N1, was already known to transmit human-to-human, if only rarely.

This debate on developing pathogenic threats for research purposes led the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on funding gain-of-function research. Dr. Lynn Klotz, PhD, a Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, shares his “grave concern that the probability of a pandemic caused by a lab incident or accident is much too high.”

Pandora Report quotes Klotz to say that his calculation demonstrated the “high likelihood of release into the community from at least one of the fourteen facilities that now create airborne-transmissible potential pandemic viruses and made estimates of the probability that a release will seed a pandemic with potentially millions of fatalities.” These fourteen facilities conduct research with avian and human pandemic influenza viruses. This calculation supports his “grave concern that the probability of a pandemic caused by a lab incident or accident is much too high.”

Klotz estimates that the chance of a release from a laboratory for an estimated five years of research producing and studying mammalian airborne transmissible H5N1 avian influenza and human flu viruses is 15.8%Human error can cause accidents that result in the release of a dangerous pathogen into the surrounding community. Given the risks, Klotz recommends a strong level of precaution, specifically a moratorium on this mammalian airborne transmissible avian influenza research.

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