Congress just passed an economic package designed to inoculate the American economy from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus. At the same time, medical experts are working around the clock to develop treatments to help people recover from the virus as well as vaccines to prevent it from infecting people in the future.
There is some concern that once the current emergency has passed the coronavirus could make a comeback each year like the flu itself. Developing a vaccine therefore will likely be a key part of preventing the future spread of this virus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, now famous for his role in the daily White House COVID-19 briefings, has been the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Dr. Fauci has overseen research during his tenure to prevent infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, Zika, and now the Coronavirus. He recently emphasized how critical safety is when developing new medicines noting:
“The issue of safety is something I want to make sure the American public understands…Does the vaccine make you worse? You can get a good feel for that in animal [testing].”
Dr. Fauci makes the important point — science, medical ethics and human decency require animal testing for safety so that in our attempt to help, we don’t accidentally make things worse.
But there are voices that oppose Dr. Fauci. They oppose sound science. They oppose medical ethics. And they oppose basic human decency. One such group, the poorly named “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” (PETA), oppose any and all animal testing and have tried to shut down testing and testing facilities.
PETA has mounted a pressure campaign to get airlines to not transport medical research animals. Unfortunately that means they are standing in the way of ethical and legally required research that will stop the coronavirus (and other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease) from killing those we love.
PETA’s president and co-founder, Ingrid Newkirk, admitted: “Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS [or cancer or other horrible diseases], we’d be against it.” PETA’s supporters have filed comments with the Department of Transportation hoping to shut down any medical research with animals by blocking their transportation. One representative comment said: “Stop experimenting on animals. Experiment on your children and mothers instead.” Then the commenter called those who reject the idea of mothers and children being used in medical testing “a bunch of barbarians.” Let that sink in for a moment. These people are unhinged extremists and their political agenda is dangerous!
Rather than stand up to these radicals some U.S. airlines, like United, have willingly accepted their demands hoping to avoid social media attacks on their brand. They now refuse to assist American research companies – the very companies we now are relying on to develop a cure for COVID-19 – in transporting badly needed research animals.
This comes despite PETA’s own horrible track record on animals. For example, in Virginia, PETA activists were charged with criminal animal abuse. It turns out that animals that were intended for adoptions were abused and then killed in 95.3% of cases— for an entire decade! Simply put, PETA’s moral compass is broken. Whether you’re talking about human lives or animal lives, PETA cannot be trusted.
Now, America needs reliable, ethical medical research more than ever before. We need to ensure that we have the desperately needed medical treatments to cure those suffering with coronavirus, and in the near future safe, effective vaccines to provide immunity. PETA stands in the way and hopes to prevent this important progress. And the airlines that have caved to PETA’s pressure campaigns unwittingly harm America and put us all at greater risk.
Given that Americans have just provided billions in financial relief to the airlines, it isn’t too much to ask that the airlines help those doctors and scientists working to find cures by not caving in to PETA’s pressure campaigns. And for the record, the airlines aren’t asked to deliver medical animals for free. Medical research facilities pay top dollar and the airlines can collect hundreds of millions of dollars transporting medical animals to research facilities. So, not only could airlines make some additional money at a challenging time, but they could help America find the cures that we desperately need.
America’s best research facilities are racing to find cures, vaccines, and treatments to combat the Coronavirus. But if researchers cannot test these cures — in a supervised and ethical way — tens of thousands of people could die. And long after the coronavirus is gone, the need to find other cures will persist.
Therefore, we must stand up to the extremists at PETA. And we must demand that airlines stop caving to PETA’s pressure campaigns. Americans have helped the airlines — and now it is their turn to show that they want to help America by facilitating the transportation of medical research animals.
by Peter Bernad, MD, MPH, FACP
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