dr paul offit
They're starting to come now - the 'debunkings' of the Pfizer undercover video sting, in which executive Jordon Trishton Walker, "Director of Research and Development - Strategic Operations and mRNA Scientific Planning", tells his 'date' that Pfizer is looking to mutate the virus "so we could create preemptively developed new vaccines, right".

Pfizer released a statement on Friday, which notably did not deny that Dr. Walker works for the company (a fact which has anyway been confirmed via internet searches). Now the latest 'debunking' effort comes from Medpage Today.

After making the odd claim that "it is currently unclear if the man in the video is actually an employee of Pfizer, and if that is his real name" (journalism isn't what it used to be), writer Michael DePeau-Wilson notes that Pfizer's statement "summarily debunk[ed] the claims made in the video", as the company stated that it "has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research" related to its "ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine".

While it is true that the statement does say this, it also says that "we have conducted research where the original SARS-CoV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern". Furthermore, it admits that:
When a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells. In addition, in vitro resistance selection experiments are undertaken in cells incubated with SARS-CoV-2 and nirmatrelvir in our secure Biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratory to assess whether the main protease can mutate to yield resistant strains of the virus.
Despite the initial denial, then, what is being described here plainly is gain-of-function research - after all, the company is engineering the original virus to express the spike protein from new variants of concern, variants which are 'of concern' precisely because their spike protein has immune-evasive properties.

In case there is any doubt about this, FDA vaccine adviser Dr. Paul Offit inadvertently confirms it in the Medpage piece.

"Usually, when people talk about gaining function, they're talking about making it so that the virus is either more deadly or more easily transmitted or that it now can jump species," Dr. Offit says.

"[T]rying to make the virus more immune-evasive or more contagious... would be considered gain-of-function research," he adds.

Right, so exactly what Pfizer has said it is doing - engineering "the original SARS-CoV-2 virus... to express the spike protein from new variants of concern".

Offit tries to obfuscate, stressing that "Pfizer has been working with an mRNA platform that is coded for coronavirus spike proteins, not a whole virus".

Yes, the vaccine does not use whole virus. But no one said it does. The matter at hand is what Pfizer is doing to the virus as part of its vaccine development research. And Pfizer is clear that it is engineering "the original SARS-CoV-2 virus... to express the spike protein from new variants of concern". The whole virus, note.

Offit then implies that it isn't gain-of-function research because the variant has already been created by "mother nature" and Pfizer is just reproducing what nature has already done.
If there was some evil hand back there that was trying to make the virus more immune-evasive or more contagious, that would be considered gain-of-function research, but it's not happening. The evil hand is mother nature.
But even if the variant already exists in nature, that doesn't mean it's not gain-of-function research to engineer a virus to gain the immune-evasive mutation in the lab. Besides, how can you be sure you're producing the exact same variant and not some subtly (or not-so-subtly) new and more immune-evasive variant?

Offit then appears to betray an ignorance of the process of making the vaccine, as he says the "remarkably effective" development involved sequencing SARS-CoV-2 in "a matter of months". In fact, the virus was sequenced several times even in the last week of December 2019, and took a couple of days each time, not months.

Perhaps needing to restore his reputation with the politico-medical establishment after his criticism of the boosters last month (is this why he was given the job of defending Pfizer?), he is now effusive with praise for the mRNA vaccines. "This is the best medical achievement in my lifetime," he says. "And my lifetime includes the development of the polio vaccine."

Thus, despite the denials that what Pfizer is doing is gain-of-function research - denials which presumably take advantage of the fact that 'gain-of-function' is not rigorously defined - it's clear that what Pfizer admits to doing falls squarely within the definition cited by Dr. Offit, namely the commonly accepted one, which includes making the virus more "immune-evasive".

And they appear to tacitly acknowledge that, which is why they make their excuses. In Pfizer's case, that it is "required by U.S. and global regulators for all antiviral products" and "carried out by many companies and academic institutions in the U.S. and around the world". In Offit's case that Pfizer was just copying "mother nature".

In fact, though, as Dr. Robert Malone has pointed out, Pfizer has previously been upfront that it is doing this research, including in an August 2021 article in STAT News, and almost nothing in the undercover video is new. Why such a fuss was made about scrubbing it from the internet is therefore an interesting question - though this may be more linked to the sensation around it than the facts, which Pfizer's response anyway did not deny. How could it, when those facts were already on public record?

Perhaps the main lesson, then, is that we all need to be paying more attention.

We also need to think hard about what kind of research should be allowed and what should be banned. The reaction to the Project Veritas video suggests a strong feeling that this kind of work should not be done - including when it is (supposedly) imitating what nature has already created. The fear in the public is real and justified, and relates to the folly of engineering viruses to make them worse. Can this ever be a good idea? My feeling is there's no need to go beyond the viruses and variants nature already provides us with, and to stick to using real specimens, not engineered ones. But the current regulatory regime and scientific establishment clearly disagrees.

Whatever the right answer, we need to be able to talk about this properly. Not be subject to global, military grade censorship when someone tries to raise the topic as a matter of public concern, albeit in a sensational (and entertaining) way.