News Scan for Jun 11, 2015

Flap over DHS contract move
Ghana halts Ebola vaccine trials
Zika virus case denied
; ;

Congressmen seek review of DHS bioterror contract halt

Two high-ranking members of Congress have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acted properly in scrapping a multimillion-dollar contract for developing new technology for detecting bioterror agents, the Washington Post reported today.

In a Jun 9 letter to the GAO, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) asked the GAO to assess the status of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) device being developed by NVS Technologies of Menlo Park, Calif. NVS's PCR technology is said to make PCR testing much cheaper, faster, and easier than is possible with other devices, according to the story.

The DHS's Science and Technology Directorate canceled the NVS's $30 million contract last year, just 6 months before the company was to deliver its first prototype. According to a Feb 27 audit report by the DHS's Office of Inspector General (OIG) and "government scientists familiar with the project," the decision was improperly made by a single DHS official, without supporting evidence and over the objections of experts. The directorate's own review cited "substantial data" showing that the new technology worked and was needed to help detect bioterror threats, according to the OIG audit.

Johnson and Upton said in their letter that the contract's cancellation "is just one example that raises questions about DHS investments and progress in developing" the technology. Charles Young, a GAO spokesman, said the agency is reviewing the request and will decide within a few weeks whether to undertake the work.

Johnson chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Jun 11 Washington Post story


Ghana parliament cancels Ebola vaccine trials

Ghana's parliament has halted trials of two Ebola vaccines in an eastern town after protests, Reuters and other news agencies reported yesterday.

The country's Food and Drugs Authority said it had started enlisting volunteers in Hohoe in trials of vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and Bavarian Nordic.

But authorities halted plans for the trials after legislators backed local protests sparked by fears of contamination, officials said yesterday. Youth leaders, for example, threatened to boycott the effort. "We don't want to be guinea pigs," one local leader told Reuters.

"The [health] minister has suspended the trials indefinitely because the people said they don't want it," Health Ministry spokesman Tony Goodman said.
Jun 10 Reuters report


Officials deny report of first Zika virus case in Dominican Republic

A media report last week of the first Zika virus infection in the Dominican Republic was a false alarm, according to a more recent media report quoting local health officials.

A Jun 3 story in the newspaper El Nuevo Diario said the case involved a 12-year-old girl who was hospitalized in Puerta Plata. But in a Jun 9 story that ran in the same paper and another Dominican news outlet, El Veedor Digital, the provincial health director in the city, Wadi Musa Valeria, said the report was "a false alarm by a young mother."

The story also quoted an epidemiologist, Eliza Polanco, who said no one in the girl's neighborhood had traveled to countries where the mosquito-borne virus circulates. Polanco also said the girl was sent home fully healthy and never had symptoms of the infection.

An English translation of part of the story was posted by ProMED-mail, the disease monitoring service of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Zika virus, spread by Aedes mosquitoes, causes an illness similar to dengue virus, but generally milder. In May, Brazilian authorities confirmed 16 Zika infections, marking the first documented cases in the Americas.
Jun 9 El Veedor story
Jun 10 ProMED-mail post
Related Jun 5 CIDRAP News item

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