Wednesday, September 21, 2005

No transparency at CDC on flu data

Nature magazine, one of the world's premier scientific journals, just blew CDC and the Bush Administration out of the water. Specifically, in a detailed story by Declan Butler we learn of CDC's abysmal record of data sharing with the world scientific community. Despite Bush’s call at the UN last week that the international community share sequences, samples and information about influenza, CDC has not done so, even with the US’s top scientists.
“Many in the influenza field are displeased with the CDC’s practice of refusing to deposit sequences of most of the strains that they sequence,” says Michael Deem, a physicist at Rice University in Houston, who works on predicting flu vaccine efficiency. Policy decisions, such as which vaccine to produce ahead of each flu season, are being made without the full data being available to the scientific community, he says. “The quality of their decisions, which can affect millions of people, cannot be checked.” (Nature, online now, print issue of 9/22/05)
Apparently flu researchers don't know what sequences and samples CDC has or even how many. While thought to be in the thousands, less than 10% of sequences deposited in national and international databases come from the agency, according to a Nature search. An NIH consortium has deposited almost 2800 this year alone.
“No other US laboratory receives thousands of influenza samples and sequences from around the globe,” points out one [scientist]. “They say it’s in [their weekly report],” says another. “Give me a break. I want the database.”
CDC's response?
“The advancement of public health and science is generally best served when data are shared in an open, timely and appropriate manner, and the CDC Influenza Branch is committed to accomplishing this objective,” says James LeDuc, director of the CDC’s division of viral and rickettsial diseases. But he adds: “This must be balanced against the needs for maintaining high standards for data quality and for protecting sensitive information when the situation warrants.”
Do they know how to spell Bullshit? Because it's a much shorter way of saying the same thing.
“Open data are better,” [says] William Glezen, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “There is a lot that we have to learn about influenza.” A key issue, he says, is to match changes in the flu genome with the epidemiology of infections. He acknowledges that CDC staff are busy with programmes such as the annual vaccine selection, and lack time and resources to share data better. “That’s why other investigators need to look at the other parts,” says Glezen.
Obviously. Obviously. So while we complain about the lack of transparency of the Thais and Vietnamese and Indonesian, let's save a little time to put CDC in the same bucket.

Given the imminent peril of an influenza pandemic, this is simply inexcusable. Inexcusable. And shameful.

This Administration and its top water carriers at CDC are not just incompetent. They are a danger to the world and everyone in it. We all live in New Orleans now.