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Why has the GISAID Initiative been created?

Prior to the birth of the GISAID Initiative, many scientists hesitated to share influenza data through traditional public-domain data archives, in part due to their legitimate concern about being scooped, a term frequently used when peers using data, are able to publish scholarly articles more quickly than they themselves are able to. In some cases, their scientific contributions would also fail to be properly acknowledged, or recognized.

Additionally, some governments were concerned, about the loss of ownership over any intellectual property rights potentially residing in such data, and – particularly for low- and middle-income countries – will wish to ensure that they can secure access to new vaccines or medicines developed on the basis of that cooperation.

The GISAID Initiative took into account these concerns and launched in 2008 the open access EpiFlu™ database, as an alternative to traditional public-domain archives such as GenBank, where access to data takes place anonymously and submitters’ rights are not protected.

See: Pearson H. Competition in biology: It's a scoop! Nature 2003; DOI: 10.1038/news031124-9

Today, GISAID's steadfast commitment to incentivize pathogen data sharing highlights the confidence data submitters have in GISAID. For example, in the EpiCoV™ database, among 215 countries and territories, the average nation shares ~90% if its genetic sequences of the betacoronavirus responsible for COVID-19 exclusively via GISAID. Among the 27 European Member States, the average nation shares ~90% of these sequence data exclusively via GISAID.

Why is there a requirement to register in order to access GISAID databases?

All users of GISAID databases are issued personal access credentials after having provided their identity and agreed to terms of use that govern the GISAID sharing mechanism.  This requirement is not only essential to help uphold the integrity of the GISAID user community, but necessary to enforce the GISAID sharing mechanism that assures reciprocity of the data for future generations

When will genetic sequences be accessible to the public?

Immediately. Unlike conventional public-domain archives, the release of genetic sequences and associated metadata uploaded to GISAID must not be postponed, e.g. for manuscript submission until accepted by publications, but must instead be made accessible to all participants after curation, without delay.

To continuously improve the quality of data records, data contributors frequently update their records, e.g., when higher-coverage sequences or additional metadata become available, or when further verification is required. With the help of GISAID’s data curation team, released records may from time to time become temporarily invisible at the data contributor's request to allow for such improvements. GISAID does not, on its own accord, unrelease data. This decision rests solely with the data contributor. In the event of an anomaly, for example a collection date differing from molecular clock estimates, mixed lineage markers in the same consensus sequence or an unexpected number of frameshifts or frameshifts truncating the spike protein are identified, GISAID’s curators will tag the given sequence(s) and alert the data contributor who then makes decisions about next steps.

Some scenarios may also arise where, for example, a duplicate sequence or erroneous data (due to sample contamination) are recalled and thus are no longer visible in a GISAID database. GISAID does not delete records.

Does GISAID store restricted sequences in its database?

No. GISAID policies do not permit the storage of restricted sequences in its databases to ensure rapid sharing of all data with the public.

Can I publish using GISAID accession numbers?

Yes. The unique identifiers of records containing genetic sequences and associated metadata in GISAID (epi accession numbers) are accepted without limitation by peer-reviewed journals in the submission of manuscripts for publication. For more information see Publishing with GISAID References.

Does GISAID play a role in the WHO bi-annual influenza vaccine virus recommendations?

Yes. Since its launch in 2008, GISAID remains an essential resource for the WHO Collaborating Centers, Essential Regulatory Laboratories and National Influenza Centers for the timely and often urgent exchange of information within the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) integral to the selection of seasonal and pre-pandemic vaccine viruses and risk assessment of zoonotic infections.

Can vaccine reference strains be obtained in GISAID?

Yes. All human influenza vaccine reference strains selected by the WHO Collaborating Centers for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Control of Influenza are made available to the public through GISAID’s EpiFlu™ database. 

However, the knowledge, as to which influenza strain may have been targeted by a WHO CC’s as a potential candidate reference strain during the consultation process, remain privileged information to WHO CC members only, although the genetic data itself are fully accessible to the public at all times.

What is happening to the intellectual property i.e. ownership of the data?

Ownership to data remain unchanged. While Data in GISAID are publicly accessible, Submitters do not forfeit their rights (IPR) to the Data they deposit in GISAID. All rights are explicitly preserved and may not be altered under the license provided through GISAID's Terms of Use

Does GISAID release genetic sequences to public-domain archives?

No. GISAID does not promote the release of data to databases where access to data is anonymous and the rights of the submitter are relinquished.  GISAID already provides the public with open access to data in a transparent way.

GISAID was specifically created as an alternative to public-domain archives (e.g. Genbank) as they do not provide reliable mechanisms to address the concerns of data depositors seeking a transparent exchange of data and the upholding of scientific etiquette.

GISAID does not offer a mechanism to release data to any other database.

Can I recover my password or username?

Yes. GISAID provides users with an automated process to recover password or username

In the event a user no longer has access to the email used in the original registration, users may contact GISAID directly for assistance. GISAID's registration team will assist bonafide users to continue using their original access credentials.

Can my access credentials be suspended?

Yes. Although rare, access credentials may be temporarily suspended if you engage in conduct that interferes with the safety or integrity of the platform or violates the rights of data submitters.  Such conduct includes, for example:

  • when GISAID’s systems detect automated programing routines (e.g. use of crawlers and scrapers) that interfere with the system's performance to the detriment of all other users, the systems will initially deploy a defense, and in some cases automatically suspend access (without prior notice) for 72 hours. You will be notified of the temporary suspension thereafter;
  • when your access credentials are linked to activity that makes data shared via GISAID available outside the GISAID platform.  In this scenario, your access credentials will be temporarily suspended (without prior notice), and you will be notified via email of the temporary suspension and asked to take necessary corrective actions; and
  • when you are contacted by GISAID’s Compliance Team about an investigation concerning a suspected violation of GISAID’s Database Access Agreement and you do not respond within the designated period, and other reasonable methods of contact have been exhausted.