Volunteer “Challenge Trials” Could Speed Covid-19 Vaccine

(p. A10) It’s a controversial idea: Intentionally infect people with the virus that causes Covid-19 to test the effectiveness of a potential vaccine.

The approach is called a human challenge trial, and it’s not the usual way a vaccine is tested. More commonly, researchers track thousands of people, some of whom receive a vaccine, and others a placebo, and then see who becomes infected in the natural course of their lives. It’s a slower process, but poses fewer risks than deliberately infecting people after they’ve received a vaccine.

But some scientists now argue the risks of such a challenge trial are worth taking if it could potentially speed the development of a vaccine. Three groups of health experts have recently published articles advocating for the idea.

. . .

A company in London called hVIVO that specializes in human challenge trials is “very actively looking into how we could build a Covid-19 challenge study to help speed up the world wide development of an effective vaccine,” said Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Open Orphan, a clinical trials company that acquired hVIVO earlier this year. He says at least 10 pharmaceutical companies have already expressed interest in their potentially conducting a challenge trial of their vaccine candidates.

Ssome people say they would be willing to volunteer. Josh Morrison, a 34 year old in New York City, has started a group called 1Day Sooner where people can express interest in participating in a future challenge trial for Covid-19. So far around 16,000 people from more than 100 countries have signed up, including him, despite the fact that he donated a kidney in 2011.

“Obviously I would prefer not to get Covid-19,” he says. “But I also felt like this was a chance to be part of saving thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives. And I felt so powerless at the time that being able to take action and do something meaningful was a strong motivator to me.”

For the full commentary, see:

Sumathi Reddy. “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea to Speed a Vaccine: Deliberately Infect People.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 12, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date May 11, 2020 and has the title “YOUR HEALTH; One Idea for Speeding a Coronavirus Vaccine: Deliberately Infecting People.” Where the print and online versions differ, the passages quoted above follow the print version. For instance, the online version says that about “15,000” people have signed up.)

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