ASM Statement in Response to COVID-19 Hearing
in response to the
House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Hearing:
“Investigating the Origins of COVID-19”
On behalf of our 30,000 members in the United States and around the world, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) shares the following points in response to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic’s hearing to discuss the origins of COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
ASM supports a science-based, open and comprehensive inquiry into the origins of the pandemic. We are encouraged that government and intelligence agencies continue their due diligence in the investigation. The conclusions we draw about the origins of COVID-19 will inform the future of high-consequence pathogen research around the world and pandemic preparedness here in the U.S., so it is crucial that we conduct a free, open and complete inquiry and do not draw premature conclusions. Because pathogens know no borders, we also urge international collaboration, to the extent possible, in the search for evidence and answers.
Novel pathogens with the ability to infect humans have emerged at an increasing rate over the past twenty years. Many threaten global health, but none more so in recent memory than SARS-CoV-2. In addition to novel pathogens, we must address seasonal threats with pandemic potential such as influenza, and recurring epidemic threats such as Ebola. Whenever such threats emerge, questions arise as to how the event happened. Understanding how an epidemic or pandemic starts helps us better prepare for future pandemics. It is essential to lead with science in order to achieve the most complete and accurate understanding of how infectious diseases emerge and spread.
As such, we offer the following points for consideration:
- The United States is the world leader in life sciences research, including basic, clinical and translational research focused on pathogens and infectious diseases. Congress must continue to support the U.S. research ecosystem through a strong federal funding commitment, coupled with policies that enable innovative public private partnerships. By doing so, we can continue promising research to understand how viruses emerge and are transmitted; how they can be prevented, detected, and monitored; and, when they cause disease, how they can be diagnosed and treated. Without continued research in these areas, we will not be able to prevent or even prepare for future pandemics.
- When this work involves working with enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs), it must be accompanied by safeguards and conducted under strict biosafety and biosecurity measures in laboratories at the appropriate biocontainment safety level (BSL). The American public can have confidence that research conducted on ePPPs in the U.S. adheres to the highest standards that set the bar for countries around the world. We have an impeccable track record in this country and recognize the need to continually refine and update standards. But for this leadership to continue, Congress must invest in the network of high containment laboratories to ensure that the infrastructure is sound, laboratorians are appropriately trained, and the work is conducted with minimal risk to both those working in the lab and to the general population.
- Research on disease-causing microbes is necessarily international. As we have seen all too clearly, viruses know no borders. Many of the viruses emerge at the animal-human interface outside of the U.S., so the health and security of the American public depends on transparent research collaborations and sharing of samples and genomic sequencing information with other countries. Work outside the U.S. needs to occur at a biosafety level comparable to that which is applied domestically to reduce risk of lab accidents. With diplomacy and American leadership, ASM believes it is possible to both protect national security and work with governments and researchers in other countries to ensure that this work is being conducted safely. We all want the work to protect people throughout the world, and we need the information to anticipate and detect threats.
We thank the Subcommittee for consideration of our views. ASM is committed to assisting the Committee, its members, the Congress, and the Administration as the U.S. continues to recover from and consider lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 30,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM’s mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.
ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.