What Happened After The Explosion at a Virology Campus in Siberia?

Lasrick writes: You may remember the explosion at VECTOR, once a center of Soviet biological warfare research. Filippa Lentzos, senior research fellow jointly appointed in the Departments of War Studies and of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, just posted an update on what happened after the explosion. Her research focuses on biological threats and on the security and governance of emerging technologies in the life sciences, and she’s been covering the accident since it first happened in September.
The article examines the facility’s history as the center of the Soviet Union’s biological warfare effort — and how forthcoming Russian officials were in the wake of the September incident: Global public health and security officials were concerned the explosion might have affected labs holding dangerous viruses… An international legal framework (the International Health Regulations) obligates countries to notify the World Health Organization of events constituting a public health risk. In the case of the VECTOR explosion, where, as far as we know, no staff were infected and there were no signs of a disease outbreak to suggest there might be a public health risk, the incident would not require formal notification. Informal communications are always encouraged, however, and, according to another source, once prompted, Russian officials did also communicate through more formal channels following the incident at VECTOR to reassure the international public health community.

The explosion had occurred in a decontamination room where staff change into and out of the personal protective gear worn in high containment labs. The area was being renovated at the time of the incident and there were no biohazardous substances in the room. While the windows had been blown out, there was no structural damage to the building itself. One contractor had been taken to hospital with severe burns and was in intensive care, but there were no public health risks stemming from the explosion…

The international community does not yet know with any certainty what really happened at VECTOR that day. If it really was an accidental gas explosion with no resulting health or security risks, the situation seems to have been handled appropriately. But given Russia’s history of covering up biological warfare research and secrecy around major accidents, national and local officials needed to show even more transparency than they did.