The New York Times is reporting that a group of flu and public health experts at a WHO-convened meeting in Geneva have decided that the full research details will be released regarding the highly contagious and deadly avian influenza developed by researchers last year (My earlier coverage of the story is available here):
Most of the group felt that any theoretical risk of the virus’s being used by terrorists was far outweighed by the “real and present danger” of similar flu viruses in the wild, and by the need to study them and freely share information that could help identify the exact changes that might signal that a virus is developing the ability to cause a pandemic.
The debate was between publishing a highly redacted version of the research immediately or the full version at some later date. As the WHO press release announced, “The group also came to a consensus that delayed publication of the entire manuscript would have more public health benefit than urgently partially publishing.”
Although the American representative at the meeting described the consensus as “very strong,” the New York Times notes that the United States was not part of that consensus. Rather, the American position remained unchanged from the one expressed by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which recommended in December that the research only be published in redacted form.
As for what will happen next:
Bruce Alberts, editor of the journal Science, said his journal and another one, Nature, had been planning to publish redacted versions of the research in mid-March. Now, Dr. Alberts said, they will wait until it is considered appropriate to publish the full versions. He said he was surprised that the group meeting in Geneva had reached a decision so promptly.