Researchers are planning to intentionally infect volunteers with the coronavirus.
By Jonathan Wolfe
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Getting infected for science
Researchers in London are planning to deliberately infect people with the coronavirus in the world’s first attempt to study how vaccinated people respond to the virus.
The approach, known as a human challenge trial, could shorten the time needed to find a viable vaccine, but sharply divides experts in medical ethics. Scientists have used challenge trials in the past to test vaccines for typhoid, cholera and influenza, which can be treated with drugs. Covid-19 has few proven therapies.
The trial, which still needs approval from a British regulatory agency, will deliberately infect up to 90 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 in a hospital isolation unit. The study’s first goal is to determine the dose of virus needed to reliably infect volunteers, without causing more severe illness. From there, the scientists at Imperial College London can immunize volunteers and then expose them to the virus in order to compare vaccine candidates.
Proponents say the risk of killing young, healthy volunteers is low enough that it’s outweighed by the possibility of saving tens of thousands of lives. Skeptics have urged scientists to wait, pointing out that there have been unexpected illnesses in young people. They say it’s unclear that the trial could predict the efficacy of a vaccine in older or high-risk adults.
In the United States, the race for a vaccine is giving rise to a different debate. The question at hand: Should I take one?
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