Virology is part of the golden age of health: don’t dismantle
The United States in the 21st century is enjoying a golden age of health compared to the last century. This has been driven by years of scientific discoveries. Nowhere has this been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the ominous threats and challenges posed by the pandemic, a global consortium of virologists, immunologists and microbiologists collaborated with scientists in related fields such as infectious diseases and epidemiology. Through their research, they tackled the virus, resulting in the development of rapid tests, vaccines, antiviral drugs, monoclonal antibodies, and a better understanding of the COVID-19 disease.
But the pandemic has also brought new scrutiny to science. On Friday, the National Biosecurity Scientific Advisory Board (NSABB) met to consider new oversight of virology research. Safety is paramount in all research, especially with respect to pathogens. But new oversight should be guided by rational discourse, evidence, and risk assessment. Over-regulation could unduly limit our ability to respond to future viral pandemic threats.
The golden age of health began with the discovery and widespread use of penicillin, followed by years of scientific research that led to an understanding of bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections. has enabled the development of drugs, vaccines, and other treatments that dramatically reduce morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases. This has been so successful that many people alive today are infected with polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, flu, tetanus, yellow fever, hepatitis, chickenpox, mumps, typhoid, syphilis, gonorrhea and many other bacteria. unaware of the threat posed by , viral, parasitic and fungal infections.
Prior to the development of medical interventions, these pathogens often resulted in persistent ill effects and death. Moreover, many of these diseases disproportionately affect young children and people with health disparities. Paradoxically, as a result of the Golden Age, many people today fail to recognize that these pathogens remain a threat, many reject vaccines that prevent the re-emergence of pathogens, and the Golden Age is simply followed by
But our golden age is actually waning. As antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise, viral diseases once thought to be controlled by vaccines and public health measures are making a surprising comeback, and new viruses are emerging with increasing frequency. The specter of a new virus pandemic has become all too real. In addition, research shows an ever-increasing link between the virus and long-term illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. And all the while, misinformation and conspiracy theories are circulating, deliberately questioning the integrity of science and the safety of virus research.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable we are to biological threats. Now is the time when strong life sciences and virology research is needed more than ever. But science, especially virology, is in danger. The continued and widespread dissemination of misinformation and conspiracy theories has adversely affected large segments of the population. These loud and largely unchecked voices, at best, leave the public with doubts and doubts about the efficacy, usefulness, and safety of virology research. Completely unregulated, virologists claim they are conducting unethical, profit-seeking, and reckless research. This is simply not true. Virological research in the United States is tightly regulated by federal agencies and overseen by the organization’s Biosafety Board, which governs laboratory research safety and practices at the local level.
Still, these concerns have led to discussions of tighter restrictions on viral research and new regulations for virology in general. 156 practicing virologists made a decisive call to address misinformation and urge that oversight of virological research be well-founded and grounded in science and evidence, not conspiracy theories. We are taking a position to provide a strong statement. While there is no argument that the safety of pathogen-related research must be continuously monitored and appropriately regulated, new regulations that duplicate current regulatory procedures or are overly burdensome are essential to pandemic preparedness and response. may lead to future failures in
Worse, unfounded policies can adversely affect even the most basic virological research, essentially stifling the United States’ ability to combat the enormous human and economic toll viral diseases cause each year. The United States could be watched by the rest of the world for pandemic knowledge, vaccine development, and virology discoveries. It is imperative that a balanced, evidence-based discourse is presented to address public concerns while maintaining and expanding much-needed research in virology.
Science is society’s best defense against the existential threats we face. Protecting the scientific enterprise is an important priority for all scientists and concerned citizens. At this time, we must work together to protect virology in order to maintain its vital role in improving the health of humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems. This is a prerequisite for maintaining and continuing the Golden Age of Health.
James Alwine is a virologist, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, visiting professor at the University of Arizona, Fellow of the American Society for Microbiology, and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Felicia Goodrum Sterling is a virologist, professor at the University of Arizona, Fellow of the American Society for Microbiology, and past president of the American Society for Virology.