I spoke with @betswrites at length for this piece on the ongoing saga of NIH oversight on the CoV work conducted with EcoHealth Alliance. It contains new information about compliance with the terms of the grant.
wsj.com/articles/coron…
First off, I'll just say that my thread from last week may be a bit out of date given that EHA is disputing the claim from NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak that they did not comply with reporting requirements for their grant.
Specifically, EHA contends that they did report their findings of increased replication of a chimeric SARS-related coronavirus as required and that they submitted their annual report on time.
NIH has not responded other than to say they stand by the letter from Dr. Tabak. They should respond to EHA's claims. If NIH screwed up and didn't communicate with EHA, they should disclose and explain. There is clearly a need for transparency all around.
Even more frustrating is that EHA is saying they intend to be more transparent about all the work at the center of this controversy...through the slow process of peer review.
"As soon as humanly possible" is not a timeline. There is no reason why sequence data from bat CoVs obtained in field collections should be withheld until peer review is complete. Depositing such data in a public repository isn't going to hurt a paper's chances in peer review.
And admitting that you have data obtained with government funding that is being intentionally withheld because you want to release it on your publication schedule? That only fuels more speculation. It treats the public—and especially the scientific community—with contempt.
This entire messy shitshow is the result of EHA and NIH both not being forthcoming with data generated with taxpayer funding. Neither the investigators nor the funding agency should be exempt from accountability to the public.
Releasing data only when faced with unavoidable demands for it is unacceptable. It feeds perceptions that there is something to hide. As @stgoldst notes, it demonizes the entire field of virology.
This is incredibly harmful to all of us. The work that EHA and WIV conducted is important and justifiable. There is no indication that it was conducted inappropriately or with inadequate biocontainment. But without being proactively forthright, people will assume the worst.
I have defended this work and I will continue to do so. But I am beyond pissed that I have to continue to also defend baseless allegations of the integrity of my entire profession thanks to unilateral decisions about who owns what data.
Virology as a scientific discipline shouldn't get dragged into a reputational abyss because EHA wants to get a fucking Nature paper (or whatever they think will be the outcome of only sharing data after peer review) or because NIH is covering its ass.
The fact of the matter is that without virology research like what NIH funded EHA/WIV to do, the world is less safe. We know less about the potential pathogens that may emerge. SARS-related viruses. MERS-related viruses. Any of the other 25 or so taxa that can be human pathogens.
No field collections? We won't know what viruses are out there.

No molecular or functional virology studies? We won't know how they work.

No pathogenesis research? We won't know how they cause disease.
No virology research—including the "risky" research everyone is clutching their pearls about—means no vaccines, no countermeasures, no preparedness, and certainly no prevention.

It makes all of us less safe. It is in the public interest for virology research to continue.
But virology research that languishes in private is not much different than virology research that wasn't done in the first place. When that causes the public to doubt the integrity of the field and whether the research was even necessary to begin with, it harms us all.
It was wrong for NIH to strip this grant from EHA for political reasons. It's wrong now that neither NIH nor EHA are being forthcoming about research that is clearly in the public interest. And it's frankly stupid, since transparency would end the speculation.
Instead, the growing chorus of bad faith criticism is becoming a cacophony and the parties involved are responsible for amplifying it. It's profoundly frustrating and ultimately terrible for both scientists & the public.

FFS just share the data already.

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More from @angie_rasmussen

21 Oct
This tweet is wrong as the letter below clearly states that this wasn’t GOF by the P3CO definition, which for NIH-funded work is the relevant standard.

But though this is politically motivated, the lack of transparency & failure to comply with NIH requirements is indefensible.
I don’t do work that meets the P3CO standard for enhanced potential pandemic pathogens, but I do work in containment on dangerous emerging viruses. Compliance with regulations and transparency are essential to doing this work safely and ethically.
Withholding data from the government agency that funds your work with taxpayer dollars does not engender trust. Federal research grants are not an entitlement. Failing to comply with oversight measures put into place largely for safety reasons is inexcusable.
Read 12 tweets
18 Oct
Yes, Colin Powell died of a breakthrough infection. That is why boosters are recommended for people at high risk for severe COVID-19.

Yes, that means vaccines aren’t 100% effective.

No, that doesn’t mean that vaccines are 0% effective.
Every death from COVID is a preventable tragedy. As long as prevalence is high, even some vaccinated people will be infected & a small percentage of those will become very sick. An even smaller percentage will die. But the vast majority of deaths are in the unvaccinated.
So get vaccinated AND wear masks AND try to limit exposure to people outside your household AND rapid test if you can get them AND try to improve indoor air quality AND use caution.

But don’t think this means vaccines don’t work. They work very well, just not perfectly.
Read 5 tweets
14 Oct
This has now happened a second time: an Ebola outbreak has occurred due to transmission from a persistently infected person of a virus that has barely changed in years.

This hints at an unknown and completely novel persistence mechanism for an RNA virus.
virological.org/t/oct-2021-evd…
This Ebola virus diverges from the most closely related genome by only 6 nucleotides. That virus was sampled from a deceased EVD patient in July 2019, meaning that in over 2 years, this virus has barely changed.

Which is really, really weird.
RNA viruses famously have a very high mutation rate, The RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) that copies the viral genome can't proofread & correct "typos" during replication. Thus, you can count the typos—mutations—as a measure of evolutionary time if you know the mutation rate.
Read 10 tweets
24 Sep
Much respect for Dr. Gilbert but I don’t agree with this. Viruses don’t always become attenuated (less virulent). When they do, it’s because there is an evolutionary selection pressure driving it. No such pressure exists for SARS-CoV-2.
An example of this type of selection pressure would be a virus that is so virulent, it kills its host before it can be transmitted to another one.

A virus is essentially a machine programmed to make more viruses. To do that, it needs to be spread to new hosts.
So variants that are so virulent they kill a host before that host can pass it along, that is under negative selection pressure. The more virulent viruses won’t be passed on. But attenuated variants will. They are under positive selection.
Read 8 tweets
21 Sep
Fellow J&J recipients: big press release out on impact of boosters. While the confidence intervals are huge, there’s evidence that boosting with a 2nd shot (of J&J) increases effectiveness.

jnj.com/johnson-johnso…
We need to see the full dataset but hopefully when it’s examined in detail, it will support a recommendation for those who got J&J to get a second shot. All the data (for any COVID vaccine) suggests there’s substantial benefit to boosting.
And I’m not sure where we are at with J&J supply, but last I saw, there wasn’t a lot. ACIP/FDA should consider recommending heterologous (mix and match) boosting with a mRNA vaccine. There’s data with AstraZeneca + mRNA that supports the safety of this approach.
Read 4 tweets

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