Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Lurie responds to Newsweek article

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie said the Department of Health and Human Services is dedicated to health and the highest standards in health research in a letter to the editor of Newsweek published on Friday.

Lurie penned the letter in response to the March 14 Newsweek article "The only thing scarier than bio-warfare is the anti-dote." She said the article contained multiple fallacies and that HHS is dedicated to safety, security, ethics and transparency in health research, according to Newsweek.

Lurie said HHS develops emergency medical countermeasures to treat illness or injury during a pandemic, CBRN incident or new infectious disease.

She said the article's claim that HHS funds the creation of bioweapons in order to develop countermeasures is false. She said the process of using bacteria or viruses that cause illness to develop a vaccine is different than developing bioweapons, and the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention prohibits the development of biological weapons, Newsweek reports.

Developing emergency medical countermeasures can require research in laboratories that follow the strictest standards, and provide a safe environment for highly trained researchers to study the bacteria and viruses, Lurie said. Lab personnel are screened, trained and required to register with the federal government prior to working in the high-security labs, according to Newsweek.

Lurie said that medical countermeasures undergo rigorous testing similar to other approved drugs and vaccines administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. She said the FDA was provided the ability to authorize the use of an unapproved drug or treatment in the event of an emergency by Congress, which puts the FDA in a position to save lives, Newsweek reports.

Newsweek countered Lurie's letter to the editor and stood by its original report, stating vaccines and medical countermeasures are only created by developing weaponized versions of the bacteria and viruses. Newsweek said its criticism of the high-security labs comes from government reports, and not the news magazine itself, citing a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.