Emergency preparedness drill exposes gaps in response after mock virus 'kills' 900M

The researchers behind a mock weaponized disease outbreak meant to test the response of political and medical experts in the U.S. said their results have revealed how vulnerable the world remains.

A team at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security created the “Clade X” simulation drill, and tagged the disease as “moderately contagious” and “moderately lethal,” Business Insider reported.

The researchers said Clade X was comparable to the SARS virus, which had a mortality rate of about 10 percent and infected more than 8,000 between 2002 and 2003. However, the results of their drill found that after 20 months, Clade X would have wiped out 150 million people worldwide, and if no vaccine could be produced, the total number of fatalities would reach 900 million, or 10 percent of the global population.

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The drill was held on May 15 and included former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Julie Gerberding. The mock scenario pinned the “bioengineered virus” to a rogue group called “A Brighter Dawn” that sought to reduce the world’s population to pre-industrial levels, according to the report.

“We think this scenario is quite possible,” Dr. Eric Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security and the designer of the mock outbreak, told Business Insider. “I think we learned that even very knowledgeable, experienced, devoted senior public officials who have lived through many crises still have trouble dealing with something like this. And it’s not because they are not good or smart or dedicated, it’s because we don’t have the systems we need to enable the kind of response we’d want to see.”

While Toner noted that the Clade X virus was bioengineered, he said the response is not that different from a naturally-emergent pathogen.

“We don’t have the ability to produce vaccines to a novel pathogen within months rather than decades and we don’t have the global public health capabilities that would allow us to rapidly identify and control an outbreak before it becomes a pandemic,” Toner told Business Insider.