The biological military laboratory at Fort Detrick that had its high-level research stopped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year due to safety protocol failures announced late Friday it will resume operations on a limited scale.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, one of the few laboratories in the country that can handle dangerous pathogens such as Ebola, will begin work again in its biosafety level 3 and biosafety level 4 laboratories, said Col. E. Darrin Cox, USAMRIID commander.
Work will begin on a limited scale. In a press release from USAMRIID issued Friday, Cox said that the institute will resume work in a “stepwise” fashion. The institution has to crawl before it can run, he said.
“USAMRIID has for more than 50 years now played a critical role in the nation’s defense, and we remain an important lab in that sense,” Cox said in an interview. “And so we look forward to getting back to full operations, but we’re going to do that in a responsible and safe manner.”
USAMRIID stopped its work in its biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories in July after receiving a July 15 cease and desist letter from the CDC. The letter ordered that the laboratory stop most of its operations following lapses in its biosafety protocol, according to previous News-Post reporting.
Following the cease and desist letter, USAMRIID’s registration with the Federal Select Agent Program (FSAP), which sets regulations for laboratories handling dangerous and lethal pathogens, was suspended.
At the time, Fort Detrick and USAMRIID were under different leadership. Cox assumed command on July 23, days after the cease and desist letter.
USAMRIID received a letter from the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the two agencies that oversee the FSAP, partially lifting the military laboratory’s suspension with the FSAP program on Nov. 20, Cox said Friday.
The letter, which contained contingencies that USAMRIID still needs to meet, allows scientists to resume working on five studies. USAMRIID can also resume full operational status as part of the Laboratory Response Network, which is a network of three laboratories that can determine what an unknown material is.
Even though the CDC and USDA have partially lifted USAMRIID’s suspension, the laboratory still needs approval from Gen. John Murray, commanding general of the Army Futures Command, before it can start work, Cox said.
Going forward, the CDC will continue to approve the studies that USAMRIID scientists wish to do. And it will continue to inspect the agency until the full suspension is lifted, Cox said.
Once the full suspension is lifted, the CDC will resume inspections on a regulatory basis as mandated by the federal regulations. When the full suspension is lifted, USAMRIID will not need CDC approval for the studies it wishes to perform.