23 July 2021

Supporting China Scientists

Welcome back. About 17 months ago, an open letter was published in The Lancet, one of the world's oldest and best-known general medical journals. Some two dozen international physicians, veterinarians, epidemiologists, virologists, biologists, ecologists and public health experts joined to express solidarity with professional colleagues in China.

Following the emergence of COVID-19 in China, rumors, misinformation and conspiracy theories arose regarding the virus’s origins. Especially disconcerting was the targeting of scientists and health professionals in China who had shared data with unprecedented speed, openness and transparency, while working to learn more about the newly recognized virus and fight the outbreak. The unsubstantiated allegations threatened to undermine the very global collaborations that were vital to combat the disease.

Former President Trump delivering a prerecorded message to the U.N. General Assembly (22 Sep 2020) during which he called on China to be held accountable for unleashing the “China virus” (UNTV via AP from www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/09/22/trump-blasts-china-coronavirus-pandemic-un-speech/5864039002/).  

In recent months, many of those who had signed the open letter were being asked if they still endorse what they had written in early 2020. The group’s response was published as a longer, more detailed correspondence in the same journal.

The Second Open Letter
The group reaffirmed its solidarity with colleagues in China as well as with health professionals around the world, working to exhaustion at personal risk to battle the virus--“Our respect and gratitude have only grown with time.”

They wrote how the pandemic highlighted the need to build a better understanding of how science proceeds, linking with health, public health and politics.

For example, in the initial correspondence, they expressed their working view that COVID-19 most likely originated in nature, not in a laboratory. This was based on early genetic analysis and previous emerging infectious diseases.

They still find the strongest evidence is that the virus evolved in nature, noting:
“Evidence obtained using the scientific method must inform our understanding and be the basis for interpretation of the available information. The process is not error-free, but it is self-correcting as good scientists endeavor to continually ask new questions, apply new methodologies…and revise their conclusions through an open and transparent sharing of data and ongoing dialogue.”

Suggestions of a laboratory-leak source remain without scientifically validated evidence.

China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology is at the center of speculation about where the COVID-19 pandemic may have begun (from www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid-origins-questions-wuhan-lab-leak-nature).
Wrap Up
They emphasize that allegations and conjecture are of no help; recrimination will not encourage cooperation and collaboration. Because new viruses can emerge anywhere, maintaining transparency and cooperation among scientists everywhere is essential. Cutting professional links and reducing data sharing will not make us safer.

“It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic.”

The writers encourage the World Health Organization and scientific partners to extend their initial investigation with experts in China and the Government of China.

Perhaps I should add that, among international leaders in infectious disease research and public health, the list of signatories to the letters includes such renowned U.S. scientists as the former Asst. Surgeon General/former Head of CDC National Center for Emerging Diseases, former Head of the National Science Foundation, former Head of the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center, as well as multiple members of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.

Thanks for stopping by.


First open letter: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30418-9/fulltext
Second open letter: www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01419-7/fulltext
Petition in support of first open letter: www.change.org/p/government-agencies-and-people-of-the-world-support-for-the-public-health-professionals-of-china-combatting-covid-19
COVID lab-leak hypothesis: www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01529-3

1 comment: