World leaders join to pledge $8 billion for vaccine, but the U.S. sits out.
A fund-raising conference on Monday organized by the European Union brought pledges from countries around the world — including Japan, Canada, Australia and Norway — to fund laboratories that have promising leads in developing and producing a vaccine.
Prime ministers, a king, a prince and Madonna all chipped in to an $8 billion pot to fund a coronavirus vaccine, but President Trump skipped the chance to contribute. Officials in his administration noted that the United States is pouring billions of dollars into its own research efforts.
For more than three hours, one by one, global leaders said a few words over video link and offered their nations’ contribution, small or large, whatever they could muster. For Romania, it was $200,000. For Canada, $850 million. The biggest contributors were the European Union and Norway, with each pledging one billion euros, or $1.1 billion.
The details of how the money raised will be distributed remain to be sorted out. The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union that spearheaded the initiative, said the money would be spent over the next two years to support promising initiatives around the globe. The ultimate goal is to deliver universal and affordable access to medication to fight Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The multilateral effort stood in sharp contrast to the solo road the United States is on as scientists everywhere scramble to develop a vaccine to stop the virus that has ravaged most parts of the globe, leaving 250,000 dead so far.
In Washington on Monday, senior Trump administration officials sought to talk up American contributions to coronavirus vaccine efforts worldwide, but did not explain the United States’ absence at the European-organized conference.
The U.S. government has spent money on vaccine research and development, including $2.6 billion through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Health and Human Services Department. Jim Richardson, the State Department’s director of foreign assistance, said American companies had also provided $7 billion so far toward a coronavirus vaccine and treatment.
And the United States was not the world’s only major power to be absent from the teleconference. Russia, too, did not participate.
China, where the virus originated, was represented by its ambassador to the European Union and made no financial pledge.
The country has slashed red tape and offered resources to drug companies in a bid to empower the country’s vaccine industry. Four Chinese companies have begun testing their vaccine candidates on humans, more than the United States and Britain combined.
Researchers at two Harvard-affiliated hospitals are adapting a proven form of gene therapy to develop a coronavirus vaccine, which they expect to test in people later this year, they announced on Monday.
Their work employs a method already used in gene therapy for two inherited diseases, including a form of blindness: It uses a harmless virus as a vector, or carrier, to bring DNA into the patient’s cells. In this case, the DNA should instruct the cells to make a coronavirus protein that would stimulate the immune system to fight off future infections.
So far, the team has studied its vaccine candidates only in mice. Tests for safety and potency in monkeys should begin within a month or so at another academic center, the researchers said. But two of seven promising versions are already being manufactured for studies in humans.
At this early stage, Dr. Luk H. Vandenberghe, director of the Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, estimates the manufacturing cost per dose of vaccine to be from $2.50 to $250.
“We are presenting a different angle from everybody else,” Dr. Vandenberghe, director said. Several other vaccine projects involve viral vectors, but no others use adeno-associated viruses.
The approach has several advantages, he added.
One is that the type of vector, an adeno-associated virus, or AAV, is a harmless virus that is already used in two approved forms of gene therapy and has been tested in many patients and found to be safe. Another plus is that the technique requires very small amounts of the vector and DNA to produce immunity, so the yield of doses would be high. In addition, many drug and biotech companies, large and small, already produce adeno-associated virus and could easily switch to producing the form needed for the vaccine.
The research is one of at least 90 vaccine projects speeding ahead around the world in desperate efforts that hold the best and probably only hope of stopping or at least slowing the pandemic.
One potential problem that every vaccine project will be on the lookout for is disease enhancement: the possibility that a vaccine, instead of preventing infection, could actually make the disease worse.
The two scientists said the many research groups forging ahead with vaccine projects were racing not against one another, but against the coronavirus.
The generation that endured Nazi death camps is especially vulnerable to the pandemic.
The New York area is home to just under 40,000 Holocaust survivors, down from nearly twice that many in 2011, according to Selfhelp Community Services, which serves Nazi victims. Now those survivors, mostly in their 80s and 90s, face a new menace that targets people like them.
“This pandemic is the greatest threat to this generation since the Second World War,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, which interviews survivors of genocide.
One got out of Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport train to Sweden, never again seeing his parents, who were exterminated in the death camps. One survived two notorious concentration camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and was discovered by British troops on a pile of bodies, half-dead with typhus. One endured freezing temperatures and near starvation in a slave-labor camp in Siberia.
Last month, all three died by the same tiny microorganism, isolated once more from their family members.
And for survivors who have eluded the virus, memories of that dark time, never far out of mind, find new salience in the present plague.
For Diana Kurz, 83, who escaped Vienna with her mother when she was 4 years old, said the coronavirus reminded her of those years in Vienna, when any random encounter might be deadly.
“I guess I picked that up as a child,” she said, “that feeling of dread all the time. That’s what it is like now. You never know if other people on the street are going to give you the virus, or were going to turn you in to the Gestapo because you were a Jew.”
Three medical workers in Russia who had been in disputes with the health authorities over handling the coronavirus have plunged from upper-story windows, local news outlets have reported.
Some reports suggested that the falls, which killed two doctors and left a third in critical condition, were suicides or accidents.
They came amid a police crackdown on doctors who have publicly criticized the government’s response. Russian dissidents have long attributed mysterious falls from balconies and other apparent accidents to state violence.
Aleksandr Shulepov, a medic for an ambulance service in the Voronezh region, south of Moscow, fell on Saturday from a window of a hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19. He was in critical conduction with a fractured skull.
He and a colleague had complained in online videos about a lack of personal protective equipment. He also said he was required to continue working after he tested positive for the virus, according to Vesti Voronezh, a local newspaper.
In response to the videos, the police warned Mr. Shulepov’s colleague of possible criminal charges for spreading false information, the paper reported. Mr. Shulepov posted a video recanting his allegations.
In the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Elena Nepomnyashchaya, the chief doctor at a hospital, fell from a window on April 26 and died six days later. She had objected to the regional authorities’ plan to treat Covid-19 patients there, according to TBK, a local news outlet, and had complained about insufficient protective equipment.
Natalya Lebedeva, the head of the ambulance service at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training center, died on April 24 after a plunge from a window at a hospital where she was being treated for Covid-19.
As one of the first major sports leagues to detail its plans to return to action, Germany’s top soccer league has become the bellwether for restarting sports events postponed by the coronavirus epidemic.
That decision became more complicated on Monday when 10 players were found to have the virus after blanket testing of 1,724 individuals from the 36 teams in the top two divisions of the league, the Bundesliga. The majority are believed to be asymptomatic.
It was not clear if the results would derail plans to restart the league, a decision that could come on Wednesday. But the test results were seen as a harbinger for the heavy considerations all sports organizations would face as they make reopening plans, many of them contingent on widespread testing.
The National Rugby League in Australia — which is aiming to return on May 28 — ran into similar complications. Four players from the South Sydney Rabbitohs were told to stay home from training on Monday because of flulike symptoms. And the coach of the Sydney Roosters, Trent Robinson, also has symptoms and will be tested.
If the Bundesliga cannot resume its season, even without spectators — a decision with far-reaching financial implications — it would not bode well for the rest of the soccer world. Germany has been lauded for its relative success containing the outbreak, and has one of the lowest death rates among major countries at less than 10 per 100,000 people.
England’s Premier League is expected to decide on Friday whether there is a way forward to reopen amid disharmony among its 20 teams. In Spain and Italy, there are also cautious moves toward playing again. (Spanish players returned to training on Monday but were limited to working out alone.)
Elsewhere, that option has been ruled out, most notably in France, where last week the prime minister declared the season over. The seasons in the Netherlands and in Belgium have also been officially called off.
Reporting was contributed by Denise Grady, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Lara Jakes and John Leland.