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Why are scientists developing self-spreading viral vaccines?

Western researchers stand accused of channeling their inner Dr. Frankenstein or mad scientist, after it appears that they’ve been playing God with artificial viruses. Experts say it could have “irreversible consequences” for the human race.

Not only are scientists apparently creating viruses that are more infectious by design, spreading between hosts more easily, but they are reportedly doing it with a goal of developing self-spreading vaccines – ones that travel through a population without the need for injections.

That may sound like the plot for some dystopian novel, or a James Bond movie, but as reported by the Irish Examiner:

“Scientists in the US and Europe are creating “risky” self-spreading viruses in the hope of developing viral vaccines, a new paper has warned.

The paper, written by an international team of academics led by King’s College London, warns the research could have “irreversible consequences” for the planet.

According to the paper, scientists are currently attempting to modify the viruses in the lab to spread easily between hosts.

The scientists hope the viruses could be used like insecticides to protect crops, or even used like a vaccine to spread immunity from one host to another.”

The paper was published in Science, and the authors are led by Dr. Filippa Lentzos of the Department of War Studies and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London.

It should be noted that while we don’t know for sure where or how Covid-19 originated, it is now widely accepted that the “lab leak” theory is, at the very least, plausible.

Recently the World Health Organisation’s Director General said that discounting the lab leak theory was “premature,” saying that “accidents happen” in labs and calling for the subject to be investigated.

Last month, an MIT molecular biologist told a Canadian parliament science and technology committee that she believes the lab leak theory is now “more likely” than Covid having a natural origin.

None of this is conclusive proof of anything, obviously – we still don’t know where Covid-19 came from, and we may never know. But if there is even a small chance that this virus was caused by dodgy experiments and human error, why in the name of hell would we be playing with self-spreading vaccines and tinkering with such potentially devastating technologies?

As reported by King’s College London:

“…this approach goes against the long-established view that such viruses are too unstable to be safe. They have called for greater regulation and discussion of the risks and benefits of such viruses.”

And isn’t that the point? Surely this whole chapter of world history has shown the need for more regulation of experimentation on viruses and pathogens – not less.

For example, it seems clear that we need an international conversation on “gain-of-function” research and whether we should be conducting it at all.

It’s a known fact that this research is being carried out in labs across the world – deliberately increasing the transmissibility, virulence and other traits of microorganisms for research purposes. This is proven and well-established.

In 2017, the Irish Times published an article on the subject entitled “What’s that crawling out of the lab? Mutating viruses to make them more deadly and genetic modifications to germ cells raise disturbing research issues.”

The article was tweeted at the time by NPHET chair Cillian de Gascun, using the hashtags #GainOfFunction and #ShouldWeOrShouldntWe.

The article reads:

“There is “concern that parties with sinister intentions will hijack the technology and essentially propagate it as a weapon of bioterrorism”, says Dr Cillian De Gascun, medical virologist at the National Virus Reference Lab in University College Dublin. But the bigger risk is “accidental release or accidental infection”, he says.

We know mistakes happen. In 2014, a pharma company in Belgium released live polio virus into waterways. The 1918 flu epidemic killed an estimated 50 million people; a new avian H1N1 strain was responsible. “The H1N1 virus disappeared with emergence of the 1957 [H2N2] pandemic, then reappeared in 1977. “It’s re-emergence is now believed to been due to an accident release from a lab,” says de Gascun.”

The 2017 piece references Dr. Filippa Lentzos, years before Covid, warning of the threat of even governments having access to such dangerous technology:

“From a biosecurity perspective,” says Lentzos, “it’s the insider threat that we should be aware of.” She points to the anthrax attacks after 9/11. This ignited concern about terrorists using microbes and injected yet more funding into research on deadly germs. “The perpetrator was a US military defence programme insider, who was worried about his programme’s budget,” says Lentzos. She argues that accidents and rogue operators are the real danger from this “gain of function” research.”

However, De Gascun seemed less concerned:

“Still, de Gascun believes that the research into more lethal viruses can be carried out safely and it can yield benefits. He runs the WHO national influenza centre for Ireland that tracks the flu viruses as it mutates, so that the vaccine for the following season can better fit any new strains.”

We as a society have not had anywhere near an open, in-depth discussion about this, and it’s a decision which could affect the entire human race in a profound way.

Scientists are not Gods or anointed royalty – they are ordinary people like anyone else. They do not get to make these decisions for our species. It is essential that these kinds of experiments are debated more openly, and that all of society gets to have their say on to what extent, if any, we want to mess with the biology of deadly pathogens.

It might be a small group of academics doing the research, but it’s not their decision alone to make, and we all have a stake in the outcome if one of these escapades goes horribly wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

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