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Scientists Halt Bird Flu Research For 60 Days Amid Safety Concerns

The head of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which funded “two projects that created a highly pathogenic [H5N1] flu virus mutation, has welcomed a two-month moratorium on further research while defending the value and safety of the experiments,” the Financial Times reports. NIAID Director Anthony Fauci “told the FT it was ‘right to get off the unnecessary fast track’ of a debate ‘played out in sound bites,’ and instead hold a serious international debate to determine future publication and practice in the field,” according to the newspaper (Jack, 1/22). “In a letter published in the journals Nature and Science on Friday, 39 scientists defended the research as crucial to public health efforts, including surveillance programs to detect when the H5N1 influenza virus might mutate and spark a pandemic,” Reuters writes, adding, “But they are bowing to fear that has become widespread since media reports discussed the studies in December that the engineered viruses ‘may escape from the laboratories’ … or possibly be used to create a bioterror weapon” (Begley, 1/20).

“Scientists at the University of Wisconsin in the United States and at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands say they are voluntarily halting their work for 60 days,” stating “the two months will give governments, international organizations and the scientific community time to determine whether the research can be conducted safely,” VOA News writes (1/21). The WHO is expected to organize a forum in the coming weeks to discuss the issue, Agence France-Presse reports (Sheridan, 1/21). “Suspensions of biomedical research are almost unheard of; the only other one in the United States was a moratorium from 1974 to 1976 on some types of recombinant DNA research, because of safety concerns,” the New York Times notes (Grady, 1/20).

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