Danielle Anderson, the only foreign scientist to have undertaken research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 lab, has told Bloomberg that it’s not impossible that the novel coronavirus spilled from there. However, Anderson still believes that the SARS-CoV-2 virus most likely came from a natural source.
“I’m not naive enough to say I absolutely write this off,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she is not surprised that researchers have not found the “smoking gun” bat responsible for the latest coronavirus outbreak so far.Follow our LIVE blog for the latest updates of the coronavirus pandemic
While Anderson said that the facility in Wuhan, China is large enough to not have known what everyone was working on towards the end of 2019, she acknowledged being aware of published research from the lab that involved testing viral components for their propensity to infect human cells.
“If people were sick, I assume that I would have been sick — and I wasn’t,” the scientist said. “I was tested for coronavirus in Singapore before I was vaccinated, and had never had it.”
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
She added that many of her colleagues had travelled to Singapore with her in December 2019 for a gathering on the Nipah virus. “There was no chatter,” Anderson said. “Scientists are gossipy and excited. There was nothing strange from my point of view going on at that point that would make you think something is going on here.”
Yet, Anderson told Bloomberg that she is convinced no virus was made intentionally to infect people and deliberately released among masses.
One of the conspiracy theories around the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is that it was intentionally released among people by Chinese authorities, or at least with their knowledge. China has denied these theories.
A task force assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) to study the pandemic’s origins had visited the lab in February.
China remains under pressure from countries across the world to allow the WHO to conduct a second study on the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Over the past month, even the White House and G7 nations have spurred renewed interest on how the virus may have developed.
Read: Did coronavirus originate in a Wuhan lab? Clamour grows for China to offer answers
Anderson suggested that scientists working at the lab had to demonstrate competency in wearing air-pressured suits and their knowledge of containment measures, calling the procedures "very, very extensive".
Still, Anderson suggests that a probe is required to find out the virus’ origin and settle the matter.
Follow Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here