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Avoiding misinformation about COVID-19 and influenza research

April 22, 2020

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Misinformation with respect to science is not new, but it can be particularly troublesome and even dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has, to date, sickened millions of people around the world.

We are aware rumors and misinformation are circulating with respect to University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor of Pathobiological Sciences Yoshihiro Kawaoka. These rumors are false. As they arise, they are reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which works to identify their sources.

Kawaoka, who also holds a faculty position at the University of Tokyo, is a world-renowned influenza researcher whose work has advanced our understanding of flu viruses, has improved influenza vaccines, and has contributed to public health preparedness for seasonal flu, which every year kills hundreds of thousands of people. His technology is also used to produce a commercially available flu vaccine.

In collaboration with the U.S. company, FluGen, Kawaoka is also leading the development of a promising vaccine candidate for COVID-19. And, he is responsible for an ongoing a clinical trial in Japan for an Ebola vaccine, using technology invented by his laboratory.

The virus responsible for COVID-19 first appeared in Hubei Province, Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since February 2020, Kawaoka has been working with the virus, isolated from sick patients, to aid public health understanding and response. He is also serving on a governmental panel aiding response to the pandemic in Japan.

His work is conducted in a Biosafety Level 3 Agriculture (BSL-3 Ag) laboratory, which is just below the highest level of biosafety, Biosafety Level 4, as well as an animal biosafety level 3 laboratory with enhancements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for research using SARS-CoV-2 virus to be conducted in BSL-3. The researchers performing the work are highly trained and experienced at conducting studies with respiratory pathogens.

The university has worked proactively with Public Health Madison and Dane County, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, infectious disease specialists and University Health Services to prepare for and conduct the research.