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20-November 2013

Genetically Modified Cholera Bacteria to be Released in Australia

PaxVax is seeking to gain a licence from the Australian Government to conduct a clinical trial of a GM live bacterial vaccine against cholera.

The Australian Government Department of Health, specifically the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, has received an application for a licence from PaxVax Australia Pty Ltd to conduct an intentional release of a genetically modified cholera vaccine. The Gene Technology Regulator, Dr Joe Smith, has received the application and has stated that comments from the public are not sought after at this time. Only in accordance with the Gene Technology Act 2000 will the public have a minimum of 30 days to comment but not until around late January 2014.

The trial is to take place in several sites in local government areas in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia & Victoria though itís not specified where exactly. According to PaxVax additional trials will also be conducted at sites in Canada and the U.S. to confirm vaccine safety in a larger population & measure immunogenicity.

Here we have a large multinational pharmaceutical corporation who wants to use Australian citizens as guinea pigs for a genetically modified cholera bacterial vaccine. Sounds delightful. Especially considering the prevalence of cholera in this country. Not!

Cholera has a habit of occurring in third world countries after natural disasters have devastated them causing fresh water, and sanitation services to go offline.

Cholera continues to infect areas around the world that suffer from poor sanitation, poverty, and poor access to safe drinking water, particularly parts of the world like Haiti and South Asia that are recovering from recent natural disasters, said Mitch Cohen, M.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics for Clinical Affairs at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

So why not invest in providing these countries with those very things they need? Why not spend money on infrastructure to improve sanitation, water purifying technology and overall public welfare to reduce the disparity between the wealthy and poor? Wouldn't that be more logical?

Logical yes. Profitable no. There is money to be made from keeping people living in these conditions.

But what of the risks involved in this proposed environmental release of this genetically modified bacteria in Australia? Control measures are set to be in place for the trial by PaxVax but what if they fail? At a minimum wildlife and ecosystems will become infected and a possible pandemic being the worst case scenario.

Recently the United Nations has come under fire and are being sued for gross negligence for bringing Cholera to Haiti in the worlds worst outbreak of the bacteria. However the the U.N, guilty or not claims to have immunity against law suits since its inception.

The bacteria was responsible for killing more than 8,300 Haitians and leaving approximately 650,000 alive after suffering through the infection. Is this what we have to look forward to in Australia should the bacteria escape itís controlled environment in our own backyard?

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