In the second of the Center for Security Policy’s five-part Biosecurity Webinar series, two biowarfare experts discussed the technical challenges to developing reliable defenses to man-made and natural epidemics. Dr. Alibek and Ms. Tskhay’s presentation was based on two chapters they contributed to the Center for Security Policy’s new groundbreaking book, Defending Against Biothreats: What We Can Learn from the Coronavirus Pandemic to Enhance U.S. Defenses Against Pandemics and Biological Weapons.
Dr. Alibek is a former research director of the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program and a world-renowned expert in the field of biological weapons and biodefense, acute and chronic infections, microbiology, and virology. Ms. Tskhay heads a scientific and analytical group evaluating the effectiveness of treatment methods and developing new biomedical products at Locus Fermentation Solutions.
Alibek and Tskhay discussed uncertainty in differentiating between natural and manmade epidemics and the current state of medical defenses against them and why the coronavirus pandemic revealed a global underestimation of the damage that can be caused by an infectious threat.
Alibek said the evidence indicates the coronavirus pandemic was not a biological weapons attack, but a natural epidemic by a new virus. He added that China and the World Health organization handled the early days of the pandemic badly and tried to hide the seriousness of the virus from the world.
Alibek and Tskhay worry about what terrorists and other U.S. enemies learned about U.S. biodefense weaknesses from the pandemic and how they might exploit them. They believe many U.S. enemies have the technical capability to alter viruses so existing vaccines designed to combat them are ineffective.
Alibek and Tskhay were clear that while vaccines are one solution to defend against epidemics, they have serious limitations since viruses can mutate or be altered. They believe a far better approach is to develop effective, broad spectrum anti-viral drugs.