A New York state politician has introduced a bill that would outlaw any vaccine that contains a genetically modified organism.
If passed, the legislation would exclude most of the candidates for an Ebola vaccine, which involve splicing an Ebola gene into a harmless virus, as well as many current vaccines including those against rotavirus.
Thomas J. Abinanti, a Democrat, has passed other bills designed to place restrictions on so-called genetically modified organisms and others that would require disclosure of information about GMOs in vaccines.
The new bill (which fortunately has little chance of becoming law) would include any organism that has had genes deleted or added to it, unless that addition occurred through a process like selective breeding or hybridisation.
John Timmer in Ars Technica reacts angrily
…this legislator’s panic over the term “genetically modified organism” threatens to keep one of the most populous states from major public health advances provided by modern biotechnology.
…if scientists were able to specifically delete virulence factors from a bacterial pathogen in order to turn it into a harmless vaccine strain, this law would prevent its use in New York. Instead, scientists would have to put the virus through random mutation and hope to come up with the right combination of mutations to accomplish precisely the same thing.
Fay Flam at Forbes magazine talks to Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, about the crazy proposal.
He points out the obvious – that genetic modification is at the heart of vaccine technology.
Vaccines against viral diseases use a version of the virus that’s been killed or altered – “attenuated” in the medical language. The modification is what prevents the vaccines from making people sick.
Rather than protecting his constituents, Abinanti would be putting their lives at risk.
In the early 20th century, vaccine scientists made genetic modifications with cruder techniques – altering viruses by infecting eggs, embryos or animal organs, allowing viruses to proliferate and using trial and error to find versions that protected people with relative safety. Now we have precision techniques for eliminating dangerous parts of viruses and including those that prompt protective immunity.