Voluntary Moratorium On H5N1 Avian Flu Research Likely To End Soon

Following the conclusion of a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week — meant “to gather feedback from flu researchers, others in the science community, and the public on its draft framework for funding H5N1 gain-of-function studies and to continue an international dialogue on issues related to benefits and risks of the research” — “experts anticipated that a voluntary moratorium on work with lab-modified strains that have increased transmissibility might end soon,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 12/18). “That’s because officials at the National Institutes of Health say they will be moving swiftly to finalize a new process for deciding whether or not to fund proposed experiments that could potentially create more dangerous forms of the bird flu virus H5N1,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes.

“The government is accepting comments on that draft policy until January 10, and officials indicated that a final version could come soon after,” according to the blog. The moratorium “came in response to fears that NIH-funded researchers in two labs had created contagious forms of H5N1 bird flu virus that could potentially cause a pandemic in people, if the contagious germs escaped or fell into the wrong hands,” the blog notes (Greenfieldboyce, 12/19). National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci “said that H5N1 researchers whom the agency funds have been holding to the moratorium until the NIH has a final draft of its new funding policy in place,” CIDRAP states (12/18). “Shots” adds, “The World Health Organization is planning to hold another conference to discuss the issues raised by this research at the end of February” (12/19).