October 13, 2008
bird flu_0172d.JPG How stupidly, small-mindedly paranoid is this?
... deep inside an 86-page supplement to United States export regulations is a single sentence that bars U.S. exports of vaccines for avian bird flu and dozens of other viruses to five countries designated "state sponsors of terrorism." The reason: Fear that they will be used for biological warfare. Under this little-known policy, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Sudan may not get the vaccines unless they apply for special export licenses, which would be given or refused according to the discretion and timing of the U.S. Three of those nations — Iran, Cuba and Sudan — also are subject to a ban on all human pandemic influenza vaccines as part of a general U.S. embargo.

Even Bob Gates thinks it's "the nuttiest thing", when Indonesia does the same thing in reverse.

And the scientific community is not impressed.

They make "no scientific sense," said Peter Palese, chairman of the microbiology department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He said the bird flu vaccine, for example, can be used to contain outbreaks in poultry before they mutate to a form spread more easily between people. "The more vaccines out there, the better," he said. "It's a matter of protecting ourselves, really, so the bird flu virus doesn't take hold in these countries and spread."
The flu vaccine is a dead virus - you can't breed and mutate it and the scientific consensus is that the chances of using it to make a bioweapon are nil. But with a six month red-tape delay in sending vaccine to other nations, the chance that a mutation "in the wild" which isn't contained by having vaccine available and triggers a worldwide pandemic of a human-contagious strain of bird flu goes up astronomically.
Kumanan Wilson, whose research at the University of Toronto focuses on policymaking in areas of health protection, said it would be ironic if the bird flu virus morphed into a more dangerous form in one of those countries. "That would pose a much graver threat to the public than the theoretical risk that the vaccine could be used for biological warfare," he said.

Can someone in D.C. with a brain please do something about getting this dangerous idiocy overturned? They might start with officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who didn't know a damn thing about this dumbass policy until the AP asked them about it and who "privately expressed alarm". Over at science blog Effect Measure, writer Revere is unhappy.

The ethics of US foreign policy is again called into question when we use vaccines and medicines as tools to punish states we disagree with. The leaders of these states don't suffer. Only their citizens. Meanwhile, this merely vindicates that raging nutcase and incompetent, Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari, who first raised the issue of US bioweapons policy in the debate over sharing influenza viruses. Perhaps vindicates is the wrong word. More appropriately, it shows that the US has its own raging nutcases and incompetents, like U.S. Commerce Assistant Secretary Christopher Wall and his colleagues. Small minds, thinking tiny, in unison.
That certainly sounds like the Bush administration. Previously posted in a slightly different form at Newshoggers

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