Covid-19 Live Updates: Scientists Are Making and Using D.I.Y. Vaccines

Some scientists are working on, and giving themselves, D.I.Y. vaccines.

In April, more than three months before any coronavirus vaccine would enter large clinical trials, the mayor of Friday Harbor, a picturesque island town in Washington State, invited a microbiologist friend to vaccinate him.

The exchange, between Mayor Farhad Ghatan and Johnny Stine, who runs North Coast Biologics, a Seattle biotech company, occurred on the mayor’s Facebook page, to the horror of several town residents following it.

Mr. Stine is far from the only scientist creating experimental coronavirus vaccines, which may be for themselves, family, friends and other interested parties. Dozens of scientists around the world have done it, with wildly varying methods, affiliations and claims.

The most impressively credentialed effort is the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, or RaDVaC, which boasts the famous Harvard geneticist George Church among its 23 listed collaborators. (The research, however, is not happening on Harvard’s campus: “While professor Church’s lab works on a number of Covid-19 research projects, he has assured Harvard Medical School that work related to the RaDVaC vaccine is not being done in his lab,” a spokeswoman for Harvard Medical School said.)

Among the most secretive projects is CoroNope, which refuses to name anyone involved because, according to the person responding to messages sent to the group’s email account, the “less than half a dozen” biologists don’t want to risk getting in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration or with their employers.

Each D.I.Y. effort is motivated, at least in part, by the same idea: Exceptional times demand exceptional actions. If scientists have the skills and gumption to assemble a vaccine on their own, the logic goes, they should do it. Defenders say that as long as they are measured about their claims and transparent about their process, we could all benefit from what they learn.

But critics say that no matter how well intentioned, these scientists aren’t likely to learn anything useful because their vaccines are not being put to the true test of randomized and placebo-controlled studies. What’s more, taking these vaccines could cause harm, or offer a false sense of protection.

“Take it yourself and there is not much anyone can or should do,” said Jeffrey Kahn, the director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. But once a person starts encouraging other people to try an unproven vaccine, “you’re headed right back to the days of patent medicine and quackery,” he said, referring to a time when remedies were widely sold with colorful but misleading promises.

The number of coronavirus cases reported in Russia since the start of the pandemic passed 1 million on Tuesday, the government said, and continues to rise by about 5,000 per day despite an official declaration in early August that the country had a vaccine.

The authorities reported 4,729 new cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,000,048. The death toll in Russia is now 17,299.

President Vladimir V. Putin announced that the vaccine, Sputnik V, was ready for use outside of clinical trials, and health officials said mass vaccination would begin in October. The health ministry on Monday pushed back the timeline for general vaccinations to November or December, closer to when other countries have said a vaccine may be available.

In the early months of the pandemic, Russia reported so few cases it seemed to have been all but passed over as the disease spread.

Russia had closed its border with China early on — a day before the United States banned travel from China — and later with European countries. A Soviet-era system of quarantines developed to stop plague and other infectious diseases may have helped for a time.

Bad news soon followed. Infections picked up, and most of the country was forced into a lockdown.

Experts blamed spread in hospitals, haphazard social distancing, and a faulty early test kit that produced many false negatives and obscured the initial scale of the problem.

Russia, with a population of about 145 million, is now fourth in the world for reported total infections, after the United States, Brazil and India.

Per capita, Russia’s rate of infection is about one-third that of the United States. Russia by Monday had reported 687 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 1,836 reported infections per 100,000 people in the United States.

Despite the steady rise in cases, Russian schools opened on Tuesday with few precautions. Teachers and children are not required to wear masks.

In Wuhan, the first epicenter of the virus, students have returned to school.

Millions of students and teachers went back to school on Tuesday in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the original center of the coronavirus epidemic.

The state-run news media said that more than 2,840 primary and secondary schools, serving nearly 1.4 million students, reopened on Tuesday. It was a striking turnabout from the early days, when the virus spread rapidly and mysteriously through Wuhan and officials imposed a 76-day lockdown.

Those memories lingered as students endured temperature checks outside school gates and lessons on hand-washing. But many hailed the school year as another sign that life was slowly getting back to normal in China.

“School is open, and I’m very excited and happy,” a sixth-grade student named Li Xinnuo told a radio broadcaster in Wuhan. “I can see my classmates, whom I haven’t seen for a long time.”

As countries around the world struggle to safely reopen schools, China is taking an ambitious approach, vowing to resume in-person classes this fall for almost all students. (A notable exception is the region of Xinjiang in the west, where several cities remain under lockdown more than a month after an outbreak.)

China has, for the moment, largely contained the virus, imposing strict quarantines and mass testing. Nearly all of Wuhan, a city of 11 million, was tested for the virus earlier this year.

In Wuhan, schools are installing disinfecting stations, instructing students not to speak during meals for fear they could spread germs, and barring parents from classrooms.

Still, life seemed largely normal on Tuesday, with students sitting shoulder-to-shoulder inside classrooms and crowding hallways, according to images in the Chinese news media. At many schools, masks are optional, though many students wear them.

As Wuhan geared up for school, small groups of students had already resumed classes over the past few months. More than 80 universities have partially reopened.

Ji Qingyu, a 21-year-old college senior in Wuhan, said in an interview that her relatives had reassured her that it was safe.

“I was a little worried on my way back,” she said. “But my family even told me that Wuhan should be the safest place now.”

And it’s back to school for more children in Britain, too.

Classrooms and schoolyards across Britain rang with the clamor of students on Tuesday morning as hundreds of thousands of children began returning to schools in the British government’s boldest bid yet to reopen society.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared reopening schools a “moral duty” and made it a centerpiece of his strategy to recover from the pandemic, which has inflicted a higher death toll — 41,500 deaths — on Britain than on any other European country.

With teachers’ unions and many parents supporting the push to get children back to school, the government is hoping for a successful reopening, after a chaotic episode over the summer on the awarding of examination grades. Attendance levels will be watched closely, though officials said they were confident parents would send their children back. Scotland and some of Northern Ireland began opening their schools last month, with England and Wales starting Tuesday.

Mr. Johnson’s embattled education minister, Gavin Williamson, is scheduled to speak to Parliament later on Tuesday about the status of the reopening as well as the testing fiasco. Among the big questions is how school administrators will handle new outbreaks of the virus, which health experts said were all but inevitable.

The United States faces a wave of small-business failures this fall if the federal government does not provide a new round of financial assistance — a prospect that economists warn would prolong the recession, slow the recovery and perhaps enduringly reshape the American business landscape.

As the pandemic drags on, it is threatening even well-established businesses that were financially healthy before the crisis. If they shut down or are severely weakened, it could accelerate corporate consolidation and the dominance of the biggest companies.

Tens of thousands of restaurants, bars, retailers and other small businesses have already closed. But many more have survived, buoyed in part by billions of dollars in government assistance to both businesses and their customers.

The Paycheck Protection Program provided hundreds of billions in loans and grants to help businesses retain employees and meet other obligations. Billions more went to the unemployed, in a $600 weekly supplement to state jobless benefits, and to many households, through a $1,200 tax rebate — money available to spend at local stores and restaurants.

Now that aid is largely gone, even as the economic recovery that took hold in the spring is losing momentum. The fall will bring new challenges: Colder weather will curtail outdoor dining and other weather-dependent adaptations that helped businesses hang on in much of the country, and epidemiologists warn that the winter could bring a surge in coronavirus cases.

As a result, many businesses face a stark choice: Do they try to hold on through a winter that could bring new shutdowns and restrictions, with no guarantee that sales will bounce back in the spring? Or do they cut their losses while they have something to salvage?

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed coronavirus testing program began on Tuesday amid concerns about safety, privacy and the influence of the mainland Chinese government.

The program is open to everyone, and the local government has touted it as generous, vital aid from the central Chinese government. More than half a million of the city’s 7.5 million residents have already registered for it.

But some members of Hong Kong’s medical community have criticized the one-off voluntary tests as a waste of resources, saying they could create a false sense of security.

Another concern is that samples could be used for Beijing’s sprawling surveillance — a claim the government has denied.

Still others say it is preposterous that the local government is allowing citywide testing after using the virus to justify postponing citywide elections that had been scheduled for Sept. 6.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said that the government’s critics were trying to “cause worries and fears” about the program to scare people away.

“They don’t understand the details of the program, the procedures, the safeguards that we have put in place,” Mrs. Lam told reporters.

Ken Li, a tennis instructor who took the test Tuesday, welcomed the government’s plan.

“Getting tested is no doubt a better option,” Mr. Li, 50, said outside one of the city’s 141 swabbing stations. “Then people can isolate themselves if they’re infected.”

Also on Tuesday, a Hong Kong employee of Founder Securities, a mainland Chinese company, said that it had pressured its staff in the city to take the tests and required them to present their results, according to the Hong Kong Financial Industry Employees General Union.

The union said on Facebook that it was deeply concerned about the company’s order, which it said had been issued to all employees in Hong Kong. Founder Securities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hong Kong’s third and most severe wave of infections, which peaked in July, appears to have gradually eased, with only nine new confirmed cases on Monday. The city’s schools are to resume in-person instruction on Sept. 23.

In other news from around the world:

  • With the virus spreading quickly in Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas agreed Monday night to ease up on bombarding each other. Israel agreed to let fuel flow back to Gaza’s power station, and a cash infusion from Qatar helped seal the deal. The virus has accelerated its spread in Gaza since last week, when Hamas officials reported the first cases of community transmission. As of Monday, there were 243 active cases of local spread and 37 among returning travelers held at quarantine facilities, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Officials have reported three virus-related deaths in the past week and say tests are in short supply.

The U.S. Open tennis tournament is underway in New York, with fans cheering from screens.

Usually the U.S. Open is every bit as noisy and chaotic and nonstop as New York City itself, with matches that sometimes start near midnight and stretch well past it, and 50,000 fans carousing into the night.

This year, it looks — and sounds — a lot different. It began on Monday in an unusually empty USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York. A grid of fans cheered remotely from screens that surround the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

As the first match of the tournament — played by Angelique Kerber of Germany and Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia — was underway, the loudest sounds were the screeching trains from the Long Island Rail Road yard just beyond the tennis center’s walls and planes flying low out of La Guardia Airport.

Ms. Tomljanovic, who lost 6-4, 6-4, described the bizarre sensation of slugging through the most intense points only to have all that effort met with the sound of one coach clapping. “That’s usually when the crowd would erupt,” said Ms. Tomljanovic, who likes to look at the stands during her changeovers but saw nothing but empty seats covered by tarps.

Another player, Cameron Norrie of Britain, said he tried to focus on all the people watching at home in England.

“At least I am giving them something to cheer about,” he said of his countrymen and women. “In the back of my mind, everyone was watching.”

Reporting was contributed by Ben Casselman, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Ruth Fremson, Matthew Futterman, Javier C. Hernández, Andrew E. Kramer, Mark Landler, Apoorva Mandavilli, Heather Murphy, Dana Rubinstein, Eliza Shapiro, Bhadra Sharma, Liu Yi, Elaine Yu and Albee Zhang.

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