Raina MacIntyre, MD, PhD

Ticktective Podcast Transcript


In this episode of Ticktective™, Dana Parish talks with Raina MacIntyre (MBBS Hons 1, M App Epid, PhD, FRACP, FAFPHM) about how lab safety lapses are still leading to frequent undocumented lab leaks, her concerns over Long Covid and the ongoing dangers of the pandemic, and how public health agencies use information warfare to keep everyone in the dark about what is happening at the forefront of biomedical investigations, especially in the field of experimental gain of function research. Raina MacIntyre is Head of the Biosecurity Program, Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia, and author of Dark Winter. She has over 450 peer-reviewed publications, has received many awards including the Sir. Henry Wellcome Medal from the Association of Military Surgeons of the US and is a member of the WHO COVID-19 Vaccine Composition Technical Advisory Group and WHO Smallpox and monkeypox working group.

Dana Parish: Welcome to the Ticktective podcast, a program of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, where our mission is to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure. I’m your host Dana Parish, and I’m the co-author of the book Chronic and I sit on the advisory board of Bay Area Lyme Foundation. This program offers insightful interviews with scientists, clinicians, patients, and other interesting people. We’re a nonprofit based in Silicon Valley, and thanks to a generous grant that covers a hundred percent of our overhead, all of your donations go directly to our research and prevention programs. For more information about Lyme disease, please visit us@bayarealyme.org.

Dana Parish: Hi, I’m Dana Parish and I’m thrilled today to welcome Dr. Raina McIntyre. Let me tell you a little bit about her. Raina McIntyre, MBBS is head of the Biosecurity program, Kirby Institute, UNSW. She leads research on prevention of epidemic infections, including EPI watch, an AI-driven early warning system for serious outbreaks. She has over 450 peer reviewed publications. She’s received many awards including the SIR Henry Welcome Medal from the Association of Military Surgeons of the US. She was on a US National Academies of Science Engineering Medicine Pandemic Consensus Committee, and she’s a member of W’S Covid 19 Vaccine Composition Technical Advisory Group and WHO Smallpox and Monkeypox Working Group. Has written over 450 publications and I am really pleased to have met you through this new nonprofit that we’re both a part of called BiosafetyNow.org. You know, it’s an honor to be able to learn from you and meet you, and I’d love to talk a little bit about your background and what it means to be a biosecurity expert and an MD and a PhD in your area of expertise.

Raina MacIntyre: I started my career as a medical doctor and I was going to be a cardiologist because I’d done a lot of cardiology, in my specialist physician training and wanted to do cardiology. But I was also interested in epidemiology. I saw an ad for this Master of Applied Epidemiology, which is the Australian Field Epidemiology Training Program, which is a type of hands-on training in outbreak investigation that was pioneered by the US CDC called the Epidemic Intelligence Services. And in some countries when you do it, you get a degree. So, I decided to do that degree and it was quite life-changing for me because it was a new way of learning where you do just short bursts of classroom learning, but then you go out in the field, you investigate outbreaks and you apply the learning that you had in the classroom to practical problems in the field where you’re investigating outbreaks, trying to work out: What is this? Where did it start? How can it be stopped?

From that I just went into a PhD in tuberculosis control as I developed this interest in infectious diseases. I finished my specialist physician training as well, and then did physician training in public health. I worked clinically for a while in a hospital in Melbourne, in a site in Australia where the clinical work was focusing on tuberculosis, looking after people with TB. I really enjoyed being a clinician researcher. But then getting pregnant with my first child resulted in me moving back to Sydney because my family was there, my parents were there, and I had more support in terms of career and child rearing. And the circumstances just never presented to do a combined clinical research job.

I went into a full-time job at the National Center for Immunization Research, which was in one of the big teaching hospitals in Sydney. It was a non-clinical role, working on vaccine research and policy. I was affiliated with that center for 15 years. I’ve got quite a deep understanding of vaccines—I did several vaccine clinical trials, but I was always interested in more than just vaccines. And during that time, I did several studies on face mask research which actually became quite pivotal during the Covid pandemic because it’s been an under-researched area and a very controversial area. Then in 2008, I moved to my current university, the University of New South Wales. I spent 10 years as a head of a big school of public health, which still continued my research, including some of my most important face mask trials.

I also had a big administrative load, managing a big teaching school. I then moved into a full-time research-only position in 2018 which allowed me to build on the research I’d done in a full-time way. That was at the Kirby Institute, which is an infectious disease institute that had previously focused on HIV, bloodborne viruses, and STIs. My area of research was a little bit different because my focus had always been epidemics and emerging infections. And that’s allowed us to do a lot more interesting stuff and build up some of the things I talk about in my book.

I forgot to say how I became interested in biosecurity. A long time ago, maybe in 2006, I was on a committee for the government that was looking at how we stockpile for different biological events like bio terrorism biowarfare, et cetera. And the diseases of interest were in the category of terrorism agents like smallpox, anthrax, et cetera. This was soon after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks in the US so everyone was quite focused on anthrax, but I was thinking and looking at the probability of an attack and not looking at anything else. And I thought you needed a more of a matrix-style risk analysis approach to thinking about these kinds of threats. I did a piece of work that ended up winning that award that you mentioned.

That sparked my interest in smallpox particularly, but other biological weapons as well. Since then, I’ve done a lot of research on smallpox and on the reemergence of smallpox and what that would look like, what public health measures could be used to control it. I was following the gain of function debate very closely when it first started in 2011. And that just really sparked my interest in both dual use research of concern and gain of function research. I started researching and publishing on that topic at that time. By 2015, I published a paper warning that the risk of an unnatural pandemic was much higher than the risk of a natural one. And that’s how I got into the biosecurity side of things.

Dana Parish: For people who are new to the subject of gain of function, can you explain what it means?

Raina MacIntyre: The broader umbrella term is “Dual Use Research of Concern,” which is research that’s intended for good, but can also be used for harm. And that applies to any science. It could be robotics, AI, drones, and biological research. Within the category of dual use research of concern, there’s “Gain of Function” research. The two big categories are synthetic biology and gain of function research. Gain of function research is genetic engineering, which is where you take a bug that occurs naturally and you confer on it properties that it doesn’t naturally have either making it more lethal, more transmissible in humans or resistant to vaccines, resistant to drugs. You could take an avian influenza virus, for example, and bird flu does not transmit easily between humans because the receptors in the respiratory tract of a bird are different than in a human.

The viruses that are adapted to birds do not transmit easily to humans. You do occasionally get humans getting very sick with bird flu. They are usually poultry handlers or people who are in very close contact with birds – or sick or dead birds. But if those viruses switch their receptor affinity to the human respiratory tract, then they can be easily transmitted between humans. And that’s really the first gain of function research that got a lot of attention in 2011 and 2012, which was when scientists were trying to take these bird flu viruses that didn’t normally transmit easily between humans and make them super transmissible.

Dana Parish: The first time I heard about this research, I couldn’t believe that it was allowed to go on because of the potential impact of creating a pandemic. And I remember reading that article called A flu virus risk worth taking. I think it might have been in the Washington Post from many years ago. And is it worth it? Are we actually getting any benefit from this dangerous research?

Raina MacIntyre: It’s kind of polarized the scientific community. But the problem is the debate has been held exclusively within the science and policy community, and it’s been very tightly gated. And the public has not been informed about what’s at stake when actually the public is the ultimate stakeholder here. Whether it’s to benefit from drugs and vaccines that are developed as a result of this research, or to be harmed by a pandemic that arose from a lab that they were never informed about and never consented to. It also poses a lot of ethical questions that we haven’t had to deal with before. And we saw a huge global debate around it in 2011 and 2012. There was a moratorium by the national science NSABB which had been formed in the US following the 9/11 and the anthrax attacks.

No other country had a body like that, so other countries weren’t even thinking about it. And so there was a voluntary moratorium, but then there was a lot of lobbying from virologists and scientists too, and there was a petition that was signed by hundreds if not thousands of scientists saying that the future of humanity depended on us being able to do gain of function research, that this was critical to the future of humanity. And at the same time an opposing camp that was quite concerned, including people like Michael Osterholm from CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy), University of Minnesota. And Donald Henderson who was alive at the time—he has since passed away—but he was one of the leaders of smallpox eradication. He and Mike Osterholm wrote a piece warning of the dangers of this research and that the benefits certainly did not outweigh the risks, and they felt the risks outweighed the benefits.

But in the end, the lobby group was so strong and there was a much bigger number of virologists who wanted to do this kind of research. And the moratorium was lifted, the gates were opened, and we haven’t looked back since. Well, there was another sort of a pause a few years later that went on till about 2017, but there were some notable exceptions of what does seem to be gain of function research, which occurred in that time, but somehow seemed to have gotten past that ban. And then there was a report commissioned by the US government to look at the risks and benefits. And after that, you know, it was like a free for all, everyone could do it. But other countries were way behind. And the point is, with these contagious pathogens trying to control it in one country is not enough. It really needs to be done globally and it needs to have a community voice.

Dana Parish: I agree. And that’s why I wanted to be part of this new organization because my experience in talking to the lay public about this, even just dipping a toe in, is that they’re shocked. They had completely no idea that this was possible, that this research might be even going on in their backyard. And literally, in Boston, in major cities, obviously we know about Wuhan Institute of Virology. And I think the other thing is that people don’t understand how common lab leaks are and have been for a long time. And I thought maybe we could just talk a little bit about that.

Raina MacIntyre: Yes. They’re very, very common and the American Biosafety Association catalogs all the lab leaks they can document. You can go online and read it and you’ll be gobsmacked at the number of lab accidents that have occurred, some of which have been fatal, and some lab mishaps which have resulted in harm to a lot of people. They are extremely common. And you know, you’ve got to think about the vested interests of people who are laughing about it and saying, don’t be ridiculous, you know, this is a fantastic lab, and we don’t have any accidents. If someone’s saying that you’ve got to ask what’s their vested interest and what are they protecting? But the truth is, the absolute fact is they are very common. Lab leaks are very common, even in top-notch labs. The problem we have now is that the technology has come ahead in leaps and bounds and that a lab leak 10 years ago wasn’t as risky as it is now. So, the risk that comes with a lab leak has amplified because of the sort of quantum advances in technology that we’ve seen in biology in the last decade. 

Dana Parish: I think it’s terrifying that some of these concerns that people like you have had and published about, we’re watching the most devastating pandemic of our lifetime in front of us. It’s not been settled whether this was from a lab or not, or if it was natural, but I think there’s deep concern that this was bioengineered, that this was created and that there are many strains of Covid that seem very curious. In your book you wrote about Omicron. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of Omicron being published and hitting the world?

Raina MacIntyre: Well, I don’t make any sort of conclusions or statements, I’m just talking as an epidemiologist and observing what was happening. It was interesting to me that in late September 2020, (variants emerged) just as vaccines were about to be rolled out, that at that time, the original vaccines were designed against the original strain, and they were actually very effective against the original strain. You could have controlled transmission quite well, even though there’s waning of immunity with the original, against the original strain, even against Alpha and Delta. But all of a sudden, in late 2020, we saw multiple variants of concern arising simultaneously in different countries. So we saw Beta in South Africa, Alpha arising in the UK, Gamma in South America. And then a bunch of other variants also popped up both in the US and Japan, which didn’t become as dominant as those three. And the vaccines were a little less effective against those variants. 

Then in April, the Delta variant took off in India, and the vaccine still worked reasonably against Delta, but less than against the original strain. And Delta was more lethal and more contagious, but the vaccine still worked. And then as I mentioned in my book, somebody did some research to look at what sort of super mutant would be resistant to the vaccines. And they created a super mutant, they sort of engineered and created a super mutant virus with 20 plus mutations that conferred resistance to the vaccine and or a vaccine escape, as we call it. And that was published. There’s real pressure both from journals, from grant bodies and in the scientific community to publish everything open access, which means the researcher pays thousands of dollars when their paper is published. Which means you are favoring wealthy countries and wealthy researchers to get their paper published. The cost of the publishing is borne by the researcher, and in return, the journal makes it open access so anyone can read it and get those methods. And in 2017, just to go off track a little bit, a Canadian scientist created from scratch (and this is synthetic biology, which is different from gain of function research), which is where you can manufacture a virus from scratch in a lab. They created a virus that’s very, very closely related to smallpox in a lab in 2017. And it’s published in an open access journal. So, anyone could look at that and if they knew the few differences between that virus and smallpox, they could make smallpox in a lab. But interestingly, that paper was published in September, I think the one about the super mutant, and then in November, all of a sudden, the Omicron variant took off in South Africa, and the paper wasn’t from South Africa, it was from the US. So, I’m not saying that was a lab leak, I’m just saying Omicron had all those mutations plus more. To me that’s curious.

Dana Parish: You touched on another important piece of creating viruses in a lab, which is that they can be used for nefarious purposes. The public doesn’t know about these things. You wrote about salmonella in 1984, and is it called the Rajneesh Cult? That was fascinating to me.

Raina MacIntyre: So the Rajneesh outbreak is really interesting to me, and I use it in teaching students when we teach about bioterrorism because it illustrates all the problems we have with biosecurity and public health in that this was a deliberate attack that was denied and said to be natural by the public health authorities, even when the evidence clearly suggested there was something very unusual about it. And then once it was irrefutably proven that it was unnatural, and that was quite by accident almost a year later that was silenced and covered up. The public didn’t know anything about it for another 10 years. And that has all the features of what we see with unnatural outbreaks, which are common, which do occur either through lab leaks or deliberate release or failure to inactivate vaccines properly. As in the case of the Cutter polio incident in the 1950s but also the 1977 Russian flu epidemic. 

Dana Parish: What are the hallmarks?

Raina MacIntyre: So, this outbreak happened in the 1980s in a city in Oregon. And people started getting sick with gastro, right? All at the same time, and it was quite a large outbreak. There were over 700 people that were sick. The local public health authorities called in the CDC because it was very big compared to what they were used to. And the CDC and the local public health authorities quickly ascertained that everyone who got sick had eaten out at restaurants, but not at the same restaurant. There were at least 10 different restaurants involved. So, what would be the reason why people eating at 10 different restaurants would get sick? You’d think, okay, maybe the water supply was contaminated, maybe the milk or the eggs or some common ingredient used in the restaurant. Right? But they investigated all of that. The water supply was fine. There was no common ingredient that could explain the outbreak. When they tested all the commonly used ingredients, they were negative for any bacteria or pathogens. The other common feature they had was all of the restaurants had a salad bar. But some of those restaurants had a public dining room and private rooms, and the private rooms served the same food as a public dining room, but only people who ate at the public dining room got sick, and only people who ate from the salad bars got sick. And they also tested the sanitation and said it was actually pretty good. They couldn’t find any glaring problems with sanitation at any of these restaurants and certainly not all 10 restaurants had bad sanitation, and yet the public health authorities said it was an outbreak due to unsanitary food handling.

But there was no evidence to suggest that the sanitation wasn’t fine. There was no contaminated ingredient that they found. They couldn’t explain why people who ate in the private dining rooms didn’t get sick when they were eating the same food. Also, biochemically the strain of salmonella, which was the cause of the outbreak that they found, was very unusual. It wasn’t the same, it wasn’t similar to the salmonella strains that generally caused outbreaks, natural outbreaks. It had unusual biochemical characteristics. It was an unusual strain that they hadn’t seen before, and they couldn’t explain why it was so different from the other salmonella they normally saw. So, there were lots and lots of red flags. So what could be the explanations or it’s obvious, you know, to even a child, I think that one of the explanations could be somebody contaminated the salad bars.

There was actually an Oregon politician called Jim Weaver who said, I think Rajneesh did this. It’s a bioterrorism attack. And the public health authority shouted him down. Then he went to the media to try and air his concerns. He was ridiculed and made to look like a conspiracy theorist in the media. Then six months later, Rajneesh confessed that his cult had done this, but it wasn’t believed. I really press home that even a confession isn’t believed. So what hope is there to ever identify an unnatural outbreak when one, the question is never asked, it’s just always assumed to be natural? Two, even a confession isn’t believed? And three, there’s so much coverup that goes on even after it’s uncovered? So, he confessed and wasn’t believed.  

Then a full 12 months later, the FBI was doing a raid on the ranch for immigration purposes. And they accidentally stumbled upon this bioweapons lab on the ranch, which had all kinds of much more dangerous pathogens in it and also had the identical salmonella strain that caused the outbreak, the outbreak strain that was growing it in the lab. So, that’s the other thing we see in this field. People live within a narrow band of possibilities, and they shut down. They only hear either what they want to hear or what they’re told in the mass media or in mass communications. So often people say oh, it can’t be true, that can’t be true. Therefore, I don’t believe it. But we saw this active kind of coverup and silencing of the truth and a refusal to even consider it by the public health authorities, which shows there’s a kind of hardwired recalcitrance, and these are not virologists, these are public health people who investigate outbreaks.

Dana Parish: Why is this? I mean, we’re watching it now with the Covid pandemic. There’s this enormous fight about whether this was natural or unnatural.

Raina MacIntyre: Well, I think in medicine and public health, we’re not trained to ask the question, is it natural or unnatural? No. Everything is assumed to be natural. So, that’s the starting point. You’re not even trained to ask the question. Whereas really, and you can’t answer the question with science or medicine, not entirely, partly maybe the question needs a forensic investigation. It’s very similar to the kind of skills that you use in intelligence or policing or in a homicide investigation. You’ve got to investigate. You’ve got to look for motives. You’ve gotta look for different kinds of clues, and you’ve got to piece all the evidence together. No virologist or scientist can answer the question. You need a lot more. You need the satellite intelligence, the signals intelligence, the motive.

In this particular outbreak, the motive ended up being that the Rajneesh were trying to get control of land in the area, and they were in dispute with the local council or the local authorities over the land. They were running their own candidates in the local elections so they could gain control over the county and use the land in the way they wished. Initially they brought in thousands of homeless people from Portland and Seattle, onto their ranch to get them to vote as Rajneeshee. And the council, I think, overturned the legality of that, or the county. And then they hatched this plan, which was to poison the town’s water supply just before the election, so people would be too sick to vote in the community, and only their people would go and vote. They’d win the election; they’d control the land. That was the motive. Now that’s a really bizarre motive. And of course, nobody could guess a motive, but as an epidemiologist or a public health person, your job isn’t to guess the motive. It’s to just look at the information in front of you and say, does my hypothesis fit the facts? And the hypothesis that they came up with didn’t fit the facts, and if it didn’t fit the facts, they should have talked to law enforcement agencies and said, something looks odd here, can you investigate? But they didn’t. They just held it all as their exclusive domain to make a judgment. And when they didn’t actually have the skills to make that judgment, as you saw, the ultimate proof came from the FBI finding a lab. That’s forensic proof, right? Finding the lab with the outbreak strain. And it’s just such an interesting case because you see that hardwired recalcitrance of not just scientists and virologists, but the whole medical and public health community to even consider that an outbreak could be unnatural.

And then when it’s found, why did they cover it up? There was no government involvement. There was no lab leak. This was like a straight-out act of bioterrorism. Why did it need to be covered up? Because the thing was that cult, and I’d recommend people watch a documentary on Netflix called Wild Wild Country, which is riveting. I binge watched it over one weekend and it’s got 12 episodes. I’d already studied it, then studied the outbreak, and then the documentary came out. I was super interested, and it’s just a gripping documentary. They did things like if they didn’t like someone or they had individual enemies, they would give them boxes of chocolates in which they’d injected poison into the chocolates from under the bottom of the box using tiny needles. They’d give them poisoned lunch baskets and water. So, there could have been a lot of people who were actually harmed at the time, who never knew because it was silenced and covered up for 12 years. So, by not telling people, we got it wrong. This was an attack. People should have been told right then because people could have then made sense of things that had happened to them individually, where they might have been targeted by this cult because this cult was targeting people. To understand that, Oh my God, I got sick, or my husband died, you know? At that time, maybe the Rajneeshee poisoned them.

Dana Parish: And this was a domestic cult. I lived in Manhattan during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and there was this sense that it would only come from another country. It wouldn’t have been here on our soil, or it would be extremely rare and unlikely that anybody would harm you from your own country in your own backyard. You talk a lot in your book, and I learned a lot from it about information warfare. This has been such a pressing concern of mine during the Covid pandemic and from the beginning, it was clearly airborne. This was then covered up. You were told, wash your hands, wash your hands really well. If you wear a mask, you could actually get yourself sicker because you’ll be fiddling with it. I mean, there was this craziest stuff I ever saw in my entire life.

And there was Biogen, that conference in Boston in February where dozens and dozens of people got sick. And it was so obvious to me, and I am not an expert in airborne diseases and epidemiology, that this was in the air. People were breathing this in, they were not all touching the same spoon at the buffet. So, I wondered why it was such a harm to the whole landscape of public health to do this. And it’s all been, in my opinion, exposed and it created so much confusion and so much division. Why was the public not leveled with in the beginning? Why were they told to wash their hands? Why were they not told to wear N-95s once they were available and told the truth about cloth and surgical masks not being very protective? Like, what happened?

Raina MacIntyre: I’ve got a whole chapter in the book called The Fuss about Face Masks. And this is actually a much longer-standing issue, the polarization between masking and anti-masking. It goes back to SARS in 2003 where the infection prevention control (IPC) community—which is hospital infection control experts—their remit is patient safety, and the discipline has grown out of patient safety. So, they are used to looking after the safety of patients and protecting patients from getting wound infections or getting nasty antimicrobial bugs while they’re in hospital. And often the person to blame is a health worker because they might have forgotten to wash their hands, so these people are experts in things that involve hand washing and in antimicrobial resistance.

Whereas the whole science of airborne infections requires a more multidisciplinary approach because you’ve got to consider airflow, ventilation, building design, and a whole range of other things that are far outside of the knowledge of medical experts. But unfortunately, every time there’s a serious pandemic, it’s the IPC community that makes guidelines. I don’t want to go into details about vested interests and why information warfare is broader in that it’s saying that medicine has a long history of using information warfare. Prestigious journals have a long history of platforming information warfare. It’s been seen through tobacco science, through climate change, through the whole mask debacle. And there have been far fewer papers that have been published that have presented evidence supporting a lab leak than have studies on proposing a natural origin.

So, there’s this heavy bias in the scientific journals. I won’t name which ones are the worst offenders, but these are prestigious journals, and they control the narrative. And it’s only by looking at history, I think that you can look at the present and think about what’s happening in the present. One of the other problems, which is kind of amplified during the pandemic, is a political polarization of narrative, and the kind of tribalism of human beings. In the US it’s the red and blue thing that by saying that you think the lab leak is a viable hypothesis, you’re suddenly aligning yourself with some people who might actually be not the kind of people that you (typically) align yourself with. You know, the sort of people who believe certain political ideologies and so forth.

I won’t comment further on that, but that’s the problem of information warfare, that people are so tribalistic by nature that they don’t want to believe something that the other tribe believes. My view is that you need to look at what everybody’s saying regardless of what you feel about them or what tribe they belong to, because sometimes you can get bits of truth everywhere. And you’ve got to think about the facts objectively and try and put them together in a way that makes sense rather than just blindly follow a particular political line, because you’ve got no capability of critical thought, you know? And people do find it quite hard to step out of those tribal alliances, I think.

Dana Parish: I agree.  I hear so much from the people that are on the side of Covid having a natural origin and saying that it came from a wet market in Wuhan, from a bat, potentially many animals have been sort of thrown around where they didn’t sell bats in December of 2019. And yet what happened at the military games is very, very curious to me. In October 2019, it seems like there was a major outbreak of some mysterious pneumonia. I read articles from every country pretty much. I think there were 10,000 athletes from a hundred countries, and it was just the perfect place to disseminate a virus all over the entire world. What do you make of the Military Games?

Raina MacIntyre: I think that’s another piece of information that fits into the bigger picture that is much more about looking at the genome sequence of the virus. That’s just one piece of the picture. As I said, there is a whole science around investigating the origins of and science of outbreaks, which most scientists commenting are not aware of. They think it’s their exclusive domain to comment on the origin based on a fraction of the information that’s required. So, you need to look at all lines of evidence and put it all together and look at the big picture. That includes all kinds of intelligence. I would like to see the serological studies done on stored serum from that period of time between October and December 2019. Anyone who had blood taken during that time to look at their antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 from athletes who went (to the Military Games). But has that been published? No. There’s been a serosurvey study published out of China, which suggests there wasn’t any serological evidence of SARS CoV-2, but that depends on where you sample. If you went and sampled in Beijing or Shanghai, you probably won’t find anything. It depends on who you sample. China’s a big country and how do you do that sampling? But there are serological studies that suggest it was circulating in the US in December and in Europe in November. So, there’s other evidence that it arose well before late December. And also, the reports of people getting sick in the lab at Wuhan. And just the basic fact that this outbreak arose in proximity to two major labs that were both doing research on Coronaviruses.

Are we supposed to just say that’s a conspiracy theory? Shi Zhengli and her colleagues released a sequence of the closest known bat relative virus to SARS-CoV-2 after the pandemic started, and that was a virus that they were working on, or they had in the lab there.

Dana Parish: There are so many questions, and I hate the term conspiracy theorist and quacks, and I don’t like all these terms that people use to discredit rational questions. Again, it goes back to your book. 

Raina MacIntyre: It’s an easy way to shut down discussion.

Dana Parish: It is. I come from having a very severe case of chronic Lyme, which got me into this whole world of writing a book about pathogens and persistent pathogens, including Covid and taking such an interest in this topic. But Lyme too was known to be a really severe infectious disease. It was on the cover of Newsweek magazine in 1989, and they said in this article, there was an ID doc who said, if it wasn’t for HIV, this would be the most horrifying infectious disease that’s spreading globally. And people were so, so sick. We knew at that time it was congenital, it was persistent, it could cause dementia arthritis—all these things. And then it was completely covered up.

I was in heart failure from it, I was extremely sick and near death, and I knew nothing about any of this, the politics of medicine and infectious diseases. I was in the midst of a music career at the time. So, you learn these things the hard way. And when I saw Covid hit the world, I thought, oh my gosh, this is going to be politically and even medically with all the chronic illness with persistence, it’s going to be so similar. And, you know, here we are. I’m curious what you think about Covid. I’m wondering what you think about where we are now.

Raina MacIntyre: Well, I think we’re in a very bad place because Covid is a chronically disabling illness that attacks multiple organ systems: the brain, the heart, the lungs, the immune system, the kidneys, pretty much any organ system you can think of. And of course, it’s a highly vascular disease, so it affects your small blood vessels everywhere. There are so many studies now, a huge body of evidence showing that your risk of having a heart attack, a stroke, a blood clot, a pulmonary embolism, cognitive impairment, dementia even is increased after Covid for, you know, at least 12 months after having Covid. But there’s silence around that from a public health perspective because public health agencies around the world have kind of gone down that narrative of it’s just a cold, it’s over now. Forget about it, get infected. It’s good for you.

So, collectively, we’ve cut off our noses to spite our faces. Maybe that was the intention. I don’t know. But it just seems like on the one hand there was aggressive messaging telling people it was over and it was mild, and it was nothing to worry about. And then it’s like, oops. So, there’s silence. Nobody’s coming out and saying, you need to prevent yourself from getting infected. You could end up with heart failure at the age of 35. We don’t know. There are enough warning signs to suggest you should be extremely worried and cautious, and you shouldn’t be exposing your kids to infection over and over again. But there’s just silence.

Dana Parish: There’s silence and there’s so much chronic illness, and there’s so much death around us. I have a friend who’s a pediatrician who had two young healthy kids in her practice die of infections that would not have killed them before Covid infected them a couple of times. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to watch what’s happening and to watch the lack of reaction from public health and the media.

Raina MacIntyre: And I think in a lot of instances, people are disposable and cheap. If your workforce is effective, you can import cheap people from elsewhere to do the job, you know? We’re considered disposable assets, so, if you haven’t got enough nurses, you can just import them from somewhere else. If you haven’t got enough people to run your factory, you set up your factory somewhere else where there are abundant people. So, we are not being valued. It’s quite depressing really to watch what’s unfolding. And really, we are seeing a lot of sections of the community who’ve bought into this narrative, cheering on their own demise and disablement, which is really sad.

Dana Parish:

The other thing I see is people that are developing a lot of very concerning symptoms and not attributing them to Covid. And when you say, maybe you should look into that, and also, we know Covid reactivates other latent infections, and I would be wanting to know what’s causing my issues. And it’s like, no, it’s not Covid. That whole thing I find so bizarre.

Raina MacIntyre: You’ve got aggressive government propaganda telling you it’s nothing. Of course, people are going to believe it’s nothing and find alternative explanations. Why people are getting early signs of dementia, or they’re short of breath when walking up the stairs, or they’ve got serious other infections. We know there’s heaps of data showing that Covid kind of makes your immune system dysfunctional for a considerable period of time, and we don’t know how that’s going to play out with repeated infections. You know, is it going to be a long-term chronic issue of impaired immunity as a result of Covid? Or is it just at the moment, the evidence is very concerning? And we know that other infections like measles, for example, do cause immune resistance.

When you get measles, for about two to three years afterwards, you’re at increased risk of virtually every other infection. It kind of paralyzes your immune system for a period of time and then you recover. That’s been well studied and that’s well accepted by those who know about measles. Although I have to say, I was on a teleconference with some virologist once, and when I mentioned that they said, Oh no, measles doesn’t do that. And I had to provide them with all the references. It’s like, people live in their own little bubble, and if they don’t know something, they think it’s not true. Knowledge is out there if you care to seek it out, and I mean, reputable knowledge. There’s also a lot of disinformation and disreputable knowledge out there as well. That’s not knowledge. It’s disinformation and it’s hard for individuals, but in terms of medical people and public health people, knowledge is out there. If you don’t know it, then you are ignorant, but don’t tell other people who do know that it’s not true.

Dana Parish: I’ve been shocked by the public health people and social media. I call them the soldiers for the different political administrations, spreading this kind of health disinformation in the middle of Covid. It’s been shocking to me to see how many of them went along with it and they know what they were saying wasn’t true. And I guess what they get out of it is political favor. The stakes are just so high that I don’t understand that kind of behavior at all on any level. 

Raina MacIntyre: So, I’ve been wondering about this myself. Doctors and public health experts, they’re human beings like everybody else. And I think partly they’ve been brainwashed too. It’s like they hear this propaganda over and over again, so they too start to believe it, that it’s mild. It’s fine. The government’s telling us it’s okay to get reinfected. It’s good to get reinfected. So, it must be the way to go. It’s okay. And then you form alternative explanations for things that aren’t quite gelling with that theory. When your patient comes to see you and they’re fatigued, when in actual fact they might be having heart failure. You can send them off to do graded exercise. Telling them they’ll fix it, you know? So, I think there is a degree of that medical expert professionals have also been brainwashed by the propaganda and just going along with this mass disinformation. Or they can’t quite get their heads around it. I’ve observed that personally in some people. Some people obviously are more calculated and cunning and deliberately deceitful. But I think there is a lot of just general brainwashing of medical professionals.

Dana Parish: Yes. I would agree. It’s the ones that know that I find so enraging because they have so much influence and so much power. And I know because my parents call me, right? They’re watching the evening news and they tell me I don’t need to wear a mask anymore. I had my boosters, well, my dad got a booster his fourth shot and a month later was extremely sick with Covid and would’ve been hospitalized. My dad is healthy and immune-competent. So, I’m just enraged about putting innocent well-meaning people in harm’s way like this and I can’t stand it.

Raina MacIntyre: The other thing that’s really disturbed me is that I’ve worked in vaccinology for 20 years including at our National Center for Immunization Research (in Australia). So, I understand the field very well. And I’ve been dealing with the anti-vaccine lobby for a very long time, and they have a set of classic arguments they use, which is, natural infection is good for you, for your child, you know, go ahead, and get infected. It’s good for you. Build up natural immunity. Vaccines are bad for you, they’re dangerous, they’re evil. It’s a big pharma conspiracy to make money and harm you. And they’ve got a stock/standard line of arguments that they use. And now we are seeing mainstream pediatricians and doctors, not so much in the US actually, but in the UK and Australia and other countries that kind of slavishly follow the UK. We are seeing a whole swath of mainstream pediatricians and doctors, some of whom are on government vaccine advisory committees saying exactly the same thing. They’re mimicking anti-vaccine rhetoric.

Dana Parish:  I think that’s because there’s been so much lying through the entire pandemic about everything, including the vaccines. And I don’t think that helped anything. To say these were sterilizing (vaccines) when they weren’t, to say you wouldn’t get Long Covid when you could, and I know tons of people that have gotten vaccinated and got Long Covid. Public health has done a huge disservice to the entire vaccine program, in my opinion, by just not being wrong about everything from Covid being airborne to every single major aspect of it.

Raina MacIntyre: In Australia, we weren’t allowed to get a bivalent booster till just a couple of weeks ago. If you’d already had four doses, most people who got a third or a fourth dose got it around March to May last year. So that whole period through the Omicron waves that came last year, nobody could get a booster. Very few people did. You know, because they’ve had this fear of vaccines given to them by mainstream doctors and officials.

Dana Parish: Do you think we’ll get a sterilizing vaccine? Do you think we’ll get a vaccine that stops transmission?

Raina MacIntyre: Anything’s possible. But when we take away these emergency declarations and deemphasize it and try to paint Covid as just like the flu, then all the research effort that we saw in that first year, which was phenomenal research effort, all just falls by the wayside. There’s no funding, there’s no incentive. So, what we’re going to see is less research and development to develop those. I say absolutely, yes. If we could do that in less than a year in 2020, of course we can develop either sterilizing vaccines or universal vaccines that are variant proof. Yes. It’s absolutely possible. We need the will and the motivation and the infrastructure and support to get that done.

Dana Parish: Do you think that we’ll have antivirals and post-exposure prophylaxis?

Raina MacIntyre: We’ve already got antivirals. If you use a lot of it, you’ll generate antiviral resistance. That hasn’t happened so much with what’s called the neuraminidase inhibitor class of flu antivirals. So, with the flu, the first generation of antivirals called the adamants, pretty much all flu is resistant to those now. But the oseltamivir and the zanamivir, which are the neuraminidase inhibitors, there’s not a lot of resistance. And those have been used for more than a decade, maybe not used on a mass scale, but certainly quite widely used around the world. So, it’s not always the case that you’ll generate major antiviral resistance, but there is a concern, particularly with the molnopiravir, but even the molnopiravir reduces viral load, accelerates viral clearance. We know now with Paxlovid that it reduces the risk of Long Covid, and you know, if you’re kind of abandoning people and telling them to live with it, at least make antivirals available so that people can clear the virus and go back to work. You want to be able to go back to work and not infect all your colleagues.

Dana Parish: My main concern is Long Covid at this point. My concern is viral persistence and all the things that you mentioned about multi-systemic disease and vascular issues.

Raina MacIntyre: I think viral persistence is certainly an important part of Long Covid. There’s a lot of people who deny that, but we’ve seen that study out of NIH, which proves that there is viral persistence in all kinds of organs long after the acute infection. And if you’ve got viral persistence, then that could be keeping on triggering a dysfunctional immune response. So, I think, and I’ve heard anecdotally as I think there are studies now looking at antivirals for Long Covid symptoms. But I think that’s potentially another application of antivirals.

Dana Parish: I think they are studying Paxlovid, too, for Long Covid. I don’t know how it’s going. I’ve heard mixed results so far. And I’m holding out hope. I do hope that we get something that can help us prevent infection other than an N-95. 

Raina MacIntyre: It may end up being like HIV where you need multi-drug therapy to prevent the resistance and still keep the drugs effective. That may be the longer-term way this evolves—that you’re going to need multi-drug therapy for Covid and Long Covid.

Dana Parish: That’s my understanding. So, will we ever get out of this in our lifetime? This is a question people ask me all the time. Like, is this ever going to end? I don’t see an end, but I want to know as you’re the expert.

Raina MacIntyre: I think it’s unlikely to end, but we could end up in a much better position to be able to limit or mitigate the damage that it causes. I’m particularly worried about the future generations. The young people and the kids, you know, they’ve been kind of dismissed as, oh, they get it mildly, forget about them. We’ll just worry about older people. But what’s it going to do to our children today? Are they going to be presenting with heart failure at the age of 20 or 30 because they’ve had Covid 15 times before they get to that age? Are they going to be  presenting with dementia at the age of 40? We don’t know. But there are certainly enough warning signs to say this is a multi-system, potentially degenerative virus that’s going to attack organ systems. We should be extremely precautionary and safeguard our children from the chronic harms that repeated infection may cause them.

Dana Parish: I agree. People don’t know the history of Spanish flu and they don’t realize the history of SARS-CoV-1, which was that people became very chronically ill and also got worse over time. There’s this new narrative where Long Covid resolves after a few months, and maybe for some people it does, but for a lot of people they’re getting worse. And that’s my concern.

Raina MacIntyre: Each infection can worsen the Long Covid symptoms.

Dana Parish: It’s just logic. You don’t want compounded infections. You don’t want multiple hits. You’re so kind of recovering from the last one and you get knocked down again. How does it even make sense to pretend that that’s not dangerous?

Raina MacIntyre: If you think about the big picture and everything that’s happened, everything that’s happened has encouraged mass transmission and mass harm. But post that initial phase of enthusiasm for vaccines, we’ve seen a sort of abandonment of public health measures with that. We’ve seen a kind of hysteria around public health measures conflating any public health measure with a lockdown when nobody’s advocating lockdowns anymore. But there’s kind of this hysteria the minute you say let’s have clean air.  It’s like lockdown.  Why don’t you want clean air? But there are actually people out there campaigning against clean air because it’s expensive. Nobody wants hysterical people who want clean air.  I mean, do they not want clean water either? You know, should we all go and live in Flint, Michigan? You know, all of the front-facing people who are pushing this, are they just useful idiots for a bigger agenda? I don’t know.

Dana Parish: You know, it seems that way. I always think that if people really understood the risk, they wouldn’t send their kids to school in an unventilated classroom. The parents would be raising hell about this. And by keeping them in the dark and by creating this disinformation campaign about you don’t need cleaner air—it’s clean enough, whatever. You can send your kid to school with a clear conscience. And you can go back to the office, and you can go to Macy’s and spend money. I don’t know what else.

Raina MacIntyre: And I think parents as well have bought into the narrative and got hysterical about lockdowns and bought into all the damage under children by the lockdowns thing, you know are now vested in a position. And I think for them, cognitively actually accepting that this is harmful will be a very difficult position to get to. So, I think a lot of people are still in denial and kind of justifying their trivialization of the disease.

Dana Parish: Any words of encouragement or wisdom for us moving through this next phase of the pandemic?

Raina MacIntyre: I think there’s always hope in the development of technologies that’ll help us to mitigate the transmission or the effective infection. And that includes things like germicidal, UVC and ways of making indoor environments safer. I think in time a lot of these things will come and maybe it’ll take a lot of economic harm before those things start coming into being accepted as normal and part of our lives. You know, if you look back through history, things like smoking. You could smoke on airplanes; you could smoke in the office. That’s been a huge cultural shift to accepting clean indoor air when it comes to smoking. So, we have seen major shifts occur. The other thing I think about is around gain of function research, which is not the question you asked me. I think we’ll see new drugs and vaccines being developed as well. I think we’ll see other emerging infections come into the picture and kind of destabilize things again. You know, we saw a very unusual and unprecedented monkeypox epidemic in 2022. We’ve got concerns about H5N1 avian flu in mammalian populations like Sea Lions.

Dana Parish: Are you concerned about that emerging among humans?

Raina MacIntyre: It’s always a threat, you know, because that’s kind of been the real focus of pandemic preparedness has always been around, or at least since, since the mid two thousands has been around since about 2005 has been around H5N1. That is the fear that it will mutate and acquire the receptor affinity for the human respiratory tract and become transmissible. So, we’re hearing from WHO right now that it probably wasn’t transmitted from the child to the father in Cambodia, but they said that about SARS-CoV-2 as well, didn’t they? That it wasn’t transmitted between humans. So, I think the jury’s out, we’ll have to see, but the mammals dying off in big quantities like the seals in Peru, they’re thinking it looks like mammal to mammal transmission, which has not been seen before, and then the mink in Europe. So, I think we’ll see others emerging in effect. We are in the era of what I call a biological winter, where we’ll be seeing a lot of these epidemics coming rapidly, one after another. That’s what I think. So even if we get everything sorted with Covid, I don’t think that’s the end of the story.

Dana Parish: And when you see these things as your first instinct, is this natural or, or unnatural?

Raina MacIntyre: I always ask the question, in the era we live in now with the technology that’s available, and I think what I’m hoping is that people in the community will become aware of what is at stake, what technology actually is out there and what it can do. Both genetic engineering and synthetic biology, but along with that other technology that is complementary like engineering of human super soldiers, that’s already happening in the US in the UK and China probably, but it’s not a secret that it’s happening in the US and the UK. So, you’ve got on the one hand engineering of human beings to be stronger, fitter, better, resistant to pain, can fight longer, et cetera. But that opens the door for all kinds of engineering—including by hostile states—to use genetic engineering to weaken the human population.

But there’s a potential to use this technology against human beings in their own genetic makeup and constitution. Then coupled with that, the technology is present today for a bad actor to actually eradicate a species using genetic engineering technology. You could weaken an entire population of people using currently available genetic technology. And at the same time, you weaken, you could develop a biological weapon that could be released into that population as a double whammy. So, you weaken their immunity, you hit them with something, and nobody would even know it’s an attack because no one believes it. No one knows what technology is out there, how mind blowing it actually is. It’s all happened very rapidly. The technology has increased exponentially in the last decade after the development of CRISPR-Cas9, which is precision gene editing technology which has been available in the last 10 years, and then there are synthetic biology methods to make viruses like smallpox, you know?

And I can tell you if we see the reemergence of smallpox in the world, to me it’s going to be a synthetically or manmade act, but the narrative will be, it arose from corpses that defrosted in the Siberian permafrost or something like that. I predict the narrative that’s going to be accompanied by it. Then there are other technologies. For example, did you know that you can 3D print biological materials? You can 3D print living cells? What I would like to see is the community becoming aware of what capabilities are out there in terms of biological technology and having a voice in how we regulate this technology to ensure that we don’t wipe out the human species too, for our own survival. I don’t think the answer is going to come from scientists, as I say in my book, because many of them have too many vested interests, and that that tends to be the majority group.

There is a minority who are concerned. And I think the answer will come from the community being empowered with the knowledge to drive change. That knowledge can drive election results in democracies. We’ve seen that with climate change. People have a high degree of awareness of climate change in the community. That’s driven by any positive steps we’ve seen in change mitigation. It’s not scientists, it’s not governments, it’s the community. It’s when governments know that their chances of getting elected depends on paying lip service at least to climate change. They will listen because the community voice is very powerful. I really believe in the power of the people, and I think we need people empowered with knowledge, not in a crazy and destructive way, but enough to be reasonably informed, to understand what’s at stake in what’s going on around them.

Accompanying that, we need to see major cultural shifts in the way this research is done. And you know, in one of my papers where I talk about the ethics of gain of function research, I mentioned the example of clinical trials. People think that it’s too hard to change the way we do medical research. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. And you just need to look at clinical trials. When I started doing clinical trial research, there was no need to register your trial. Anyone could just do a trial, get it published in a journal. No questions asked.

Then around 2007, 2008, that changed from a concerted and long effort to register and publicly register all clinical trials. And the reason for that was that particularly pharma, but other groups,  non-pharma as well, who were doing trials were censoring or hiding unfavorable results of trials, and not letting people know about it. So, there was a real bias in what was coming out in the journals. So, to make everything open and transparent, you can’t get a clinical trial published today in a proper medical journal unless it’s registered before the trial starts. So, you have to register what exactly are you studying, what’s the research question, how are you going to do it, what are your methods, how are you measuring it, and how are you going to do it, et cetera. And then that’s a public record.

There are a number of clinical trials registries around the world. And I was active in research at the time this change came in. So, it was quite a hard change to bring in, but it was universally and globally adopted, which means that major journals, major granting bodies, all of them comply with the requirement. They require you to register for a clinical trial. The ethics committee won’t approve it unless it’s registered. A journal won’t publish it unless it’s registered. We could get to that same point with gain of function in synthetic biology. It just requires a concerted will and effort to change the way we think about it and the kind of free rein that we’ve given to scientists until now.

Dana Parish: I think the first step is really what you’re doing, which is educating the public about it. I just think that once awareness is created, it will be a lot easier to get the public on board and to be vocal about this. And I think that’s really needed. I’m so worried about the future of our kids and seeing all these emerging infectious diseases and seeing what Covid has done to the world. I don’t want this to happen again. And I feel like the public should have a say in what happens to us.

Raina MacIntyre: Absolutely. I agree with that. But I have to qualify that this kind of research is important. There is a role for gain of function and synthetic biology, but it needs to be regulated and it needs to be open and transparent. There has to be a mechanism for public consultation. And it needs to be recorded in public view what’s happening where, and journals shouldn’t be publishing anything that doesn’t—of course not everyone is doing the research to get it published in a journal. That’s the problem. But that will be one step. So, I’m not against the research per se. I’m just saying that there is a substantial risk involved and we have only considered the benefits and we’ve whitewashed over the risks until now. We need to have a more balanced approach to managing that risk. And there’s lots of things we could do to improve the outcome for humanity.

Dana Parish: Absolutely. I am so appreciative of your time and all of your knowledge and expertise. I love your book. It’s called Dark Winter, an absolutely mesmerizing exposé of the whole landscape of biosecurity and bio warfare and natural versus unnatural. I’ve learned a lot in these last couple of weeks reading your book and thank you for just sharing so much with the world.

Raina MacIntyre: It’s written for lay people, for ordinary people. It’s not technical. It’s written in a way that anyone can understand and appreciate what the risk is that we’re facing. And it is used as a kind of historical example. So, you can’t just say, Oh, that can’t be true. It gives you example after example of what’s happened in the past. So, you can put that in context and think, oh my god they really did that.

Dana Parish: I’ve had many of those moments reading your book and it’s been really a wake-up call for me to understand the depths of what can be done, what has been done, and how important it is for all of us to rise to the occasion and try to put some parameters around this research so that we have a safer future and to protect our kids and our grandkids. 

Raina MacIntyre: Biosafety now is a great initiative. I was glad to join. I was glad it was formed. Glad to join it and I believe in its mission.

Dana Parish: Absolutely. Me too. Biosafetynow.org if anybody wants to check it out. And Raina, where can we get your book? Dark Winter?

Raina MacIntyre: You can order it online from booksellers, like Amazon.

Dana Parish: Thank you. I really appreciate your time.

Raina MacIntyre: It’s a pleasure, Dana. Thank you.

Dana Parish: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Ticktective, a program of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. For more information or to get involved, please visit us at bayarealyme.org.

This blog is part of our BAL Spotlights Series. It is based on a transcript from Ticktective, our podcast and video series. To listen or watch the original conversation, please click here. Bay Area Lyme Foundation provides reliable, fact-based information so that prevention and the importance of early treatment are common knowledge. For more information about Bay Area Lyme, including our research and prevention programs, go to www.bayarealyme.org.

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