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Defending against biological threats

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Tabitha111 View Drop Down
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    Posted: June 13 2020 at 6:40am

Defending against biological threats – a comprehensive approach

by monotreme1000 - June 13, 2020



Conflict of interest (COI) statement


I have been disappointed to see that many scientists and public health authorities are making strong statements without disclosing substantial conflicts of interest.

This may not be illegal, but it is certainly unethical.

I therefore want to make it clear that I have multiple conflicts of interest with respect to this blog. I have received substantial funding from multiple sources including the federal government to conduct my research. I have collaborated with scientists at many institutions including federal agencies. If the plans I propose here are enacted, I may benefit significantly, perhaps financially. All opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not necessarily represent those of any institution I have been associated with or any individual other than myself.


Political bias


I chose the nom de plume of “Monotreme” because these animals have both mammalian and reptilian characteristics, i. e., they are not easily classifiable.

Although I have strong opinions, I am not a political partisan. I have voted for Democrats, Republicans and have sympathies with some Libertarians.

However, I am dissatisfied with the candidates from whom I must choose. Both major US political parties have failed to solve serious problems despite decades of posturing and spending. Neither party has articulated a comprehensive, effective plan to defend against biological threats. Hence, this blog.



Rationale


In this blog, I will advocate strong measures which will require major changes to our economy and foreign relations.

The justification for these changes must therefore be compelling.

 With current technology, it is possible to create a virus with any characteristics one wishes. Further, using synthetic biological techniques, it is possible to make such a virus with no signs at all that it is artificial.

You may have read that “scientists have proved that SARS2 is not manmade”. This is a bold-faced lie. It is impossible to prove that any new virus is not artificial.

All of the indicators of natural evolution that are referred to in the papers that address this issue could have been carefully engineered into the virus precisely to fool the gullible. This is not to say that I have evidence that SARS2 is manmade. I don’t. But it is a dangerous lie to suggest that a lethal virus could not be constructed without leaving obvious signs as to its origins. With synthetic biology, it you can think it, you can do it. And you can think about how to make an artificial virus look natural.


What else can we think about? How about a virus that is infectious long before serious symptoms are seen?

What if the the initial symptoms are similar to a common cold or flu with which it could easily be confused? OK, we already have a virus like that.

But lets say there is a virus with all of these features but instead of killing 1% of the infected, it kills 80%. Is this possible? Yes, it is.

How about a virus that does not kill young people but makes them sterile. Is this possible? Yes, it is.

I can imagine many other variations of this theme which would destroy nations and depopulate the Earth. How hard is it to do this? Technically, the requirements are minimal. One could create world-killer viruses in a shed or basement.
 The major barrier to this catastrophe is biological knowledge of viral-host interactions. Relatively few groups currently have the resources to do the necessary experiments to produce a virus with exact specifications.

However, these groups include the nation-states of China and Russia.
Unlike nuclear weapons, development of viral weapons can easily be hidden. And yet, viral weapons could be constructed with equal killing power as 1,000 thermonuclear missiles. What is our defense against such lethal viral weapons? Almost nothing.



Some say nature is the worst bioterrorist. I’m not sure I agree. But it is certainly true that we have been faced with a number of severe biological threats in recent years including multiple outbreaks of novel influenza strains, Ebola, SARS1 and now, SARS2.

These dangerous outbreaks have been coming with increasing frequency and have become increasingly dangerous in terms of spread and lethality.

The current pandemic should certainly open everyone’s eyes to the impact of viral outbreaks. So, even if you dismiss the threat of viral weapons, can you ignore the impact of natural viruses on our economy and our very lives?


Rings of protection


Viruses are tiny, insidious enemies which are difficult to defend against.

 No one method of defense in isolation is likely to be completely protective. We need multiple layers or rings of defense to prevent catastrophe. I am not the originator of this idea. Some of what I will propose has been suggested by others. But perhaps the particular combination I suggest is novel.


Ring 1: Intelligence


To guard against a threat, we must first know that it exists.

Since international agencies such as the WHO are lied to by nation-states and are in fact corrupted by countries such as China, every nation needs its own biological intelligence unit which will collect information from other countries, and their own, to determine if a dangerous pathogen is present.

There is evidence that US intelligence detected that there was a novel, dangerous virus spreading in China long before Chinese authorities alerted anyone. Sadly, this information was not acted upon.

Intelligence can come in many forms such as satellite images of hospital parking lots, which was used in the example above. But ultimately, we need samples and those samples need to be sequenced and used in experiments to determine their lethality and ability to spread.

Our current surveillance system has been proven to be grossly inadequate. 

The CDC clearly does not have the ability to utilize modern techniques even to test for the virus, much less provide a quick and detailed analysis. The DoD is supposed to have this capacity. Yet, we have heard almost nothing from them on SARS2.

 Where did all those billions go? I have read that the NSA does provide some useful intelligence information. Perhaps we need a biological equivalent to the NSA that will be tasked with rapidly identifying and characterizing viral threats in other countries and here in the US.



Ring 2: Fortress North America


Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and several other countries have definitively proven that banning passenger traffic from other countries can provide a shield against a pandemic virus. 

It is shameful that public health authorities and supposed pundits who adamantly opposed border closings have not admitted their lethal error.

How many Americans died because we did not close our borders? Over 100,000 now. Maybe a million before this pandemic is through.

That’s a pretty big mistake for a public “health” expert to make.

To guard against future pandemics, it is essential that we have the ability to rapidly close all airports and seaports in North America to passenger travel. If the US were to do this alone, it would likely buy us some time. But it would be best if all of North America, which includes the US, Canada, Mexico and “Central” America, were to close their borders to travel from outside of our continent at the same time.
Ideally, this would happen by invoking treaties that all countries had signed. Such treaties should be aggressively pursued, right now. Inducements with regard to trade and financial assistance should be offered. But make no mistake, a world-killer virus would represent an existential threat to the United States. Uncooperative and corrupted countries would need to know that we would will use any means necessary to protect our citizens from death.


Since time is of the essence in border closings, American citizens will likely be outside of our borders when they are closed. They should not be abandoned. Instead, a series of national quarantine centers should be created to bring them back safely. These centers should ideally be placed in islands controlled by the US. The US currently controls many such islands which could be used for this purpose.

 There are currently 9 million Americans located overseas. Processing this many people all at once would be impractical. However, many of these citizens would likely prefer to remain where they are unless in immediate danger. Still, we should have the capacity to bring back tens of thousands of Americans, quickly. Ellis island quarantined and screened 12 million people over the two decades it was in operation. We can do this.


Ring 3: Internal travel restrictions


During the current pandemic, various States and cities have imposed travel restrictions with varying levels of enforcement. This has been done in a haphazard and oftentimes capricious manner.

We need strong federal guidelines for how internal restrictions will be handled.

Rather than keeping infected people in, with barbed wire fences as some plans suggest, it would be best to keep infected people out from areas free of the virus by restricting entry to these safe areas. In this way, areas of normality could be preserved even if a pandemic was raging in another city or State.
We would therefore not need to shut our entire economy down at once. It would also allow us to target resources, PPE, testing, antivirals, etc., to hot spots. This would result in quicker extinction of the virus within our borders.



Ring 4: Nonpharmaceutical interventions


These measures include testing, contact tracing and social distancing and wearing masks.

In the current pandemic, these have been applied in an almost random fashion in terms of timing and geographical extent. This is not something that should be determined locally. We need a national, coordinated strategy informed by an accurate national database of where the virus is located at a given time point. This is what the CDC is supposed to do. Sadly, they have failed their most important test.

I can suggest that we create yet another government agency to do their job. But I am not confident that more competent individuals would be appointed to run it. We have a serious cultural problem in that politicians, who are mostly lawyers and business people, appoint scientists to important positions which the politicians have almost no understanding of whatsoever. I’m afraid until we have politicians who understand data science and biology, we will continue to be in trouble on this one.


Ring 5: Pharmaceutical interventions


This will include antivirals and vaccines. There has been useful research into both of these approaches. But it has been much slower than predicted.

There are serious issues with the productivity of the relevant federal agencies. Like all large bureaucracies, they have become sclerotic, old boy networks working without any particular sense of urgency or direction. Leaders are chosen based on their political skills rather than their demonstrated ability to achieve results. It is not obvious to me how to fix this. Again, unless politicians understand what they are funding, they will not be able to choose scientific leaders who can get results.


Final thoughts


As I’ve been writing this, I realize that I have been most optimistic about the things I know the least about and most pessimistic about the things I know the most about. This is probably not a good sign. Still, I offer the above in the hopes that it will be useful to someone, somewhere.

**********




'When you feel as though you can't do something, the simple antidote is action: Begin doing it. Start the process, even if it's just a simple step, and don't stop at the beginning.'
Marcus B
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