Russia also has an advantage, Mr. Ishmukhametov said, in its vast, Soviet-era industrial base for growing viruses for vaccines. In the pandemic, the country has turned to a secretive laboratory in Siberia with roots in the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program, which included the study of anthrax to target humans and plant pathogens that would destroy American crops.
The laboratory, Vektor, is now testing whether viruses that cause influenza, measles or vascular stomatitis — a livestock disease — can be put to use for a coronavirus vaccine.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 27, 2020
Should I refinance my mortgage?
- It could be a good idea, because mortgage rates have never been lower. Refinancing requests have pushed mortgage applications to some of the highest levels since 2008, so be prepared to get in line. But defaults are also up, so if you’re thinking about buying a home, be aware that some lenders have tightened their standards.
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
The science of mass producing vaccines has deep roots here. Aleksei Chumakov, a virologist and son of the founder of the Chumakov Institute, recalled a summer job he held as a teenager chopping up kidneys harvested from African green monkeys. Even though the monkeys had been slaughtered, Mr. Chumakov said, their kidney cells lived on for many months, used to grow the polio virus in large, rotating glass cylinders.
“You kept stirring it and gradually the clumps came apart,” he said.
As scientists gained proficiency in growing so-called immortal cell lines — human or animal cells that are modified to divide indefinitely — they replaced cultures from fresh monkey kidneys.
The Chumakov Institute has used an immortal monkey kidney cell line from 1962 to grow coronavirus for a proposed vaccine using whole, inactivated viruses, which may be used as an alternative if the vaccine targeting just the spike protein fails.
The Gamaleya Institute developed its vaccine using a human cell line first cultured in 1973, known as Hek293 — the same line used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Like a number of other cell lines used in medical research, Hek293 began with cells taken from an aborted fetus, raising objections from abortion opponents, including Roman Catholic clerics.
The first human cell line was derived from the cancer that killed Henrietta Lacks in 1951. HeLa, as it was known, made its way into Soviet laboratories during the Cold War. Viktor Zuyev, an 91-year-old emeritus professor of virology at the Gamaleya Institute, recalled using it to cultivate flu virus.