People around the world are trying their hardest to keep from being exposed to COVID-19, the virus that has been sweeping the world for months, but tens of thousands are hoping to do just the opposite.
The volunteers have signed up for “COVID-19 human challenge trials,” in which they would receive an experimental vaccine and then be directly infected with the virus to test the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“Human challenge trials deliberately expose participants to infection, in order to study diseases and test vaccines or treatments. They have been used for influenza, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, and cholera,” said a British group called 1 Day Sooner. “Researchers are exploring whether human challenge trials could support the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.”
But the trial has no start date. On their website, the group writes: “Sign up here if you may wish to participate in a human challenge trial for COVID-19 if one were to occur, and, potentially, advocate for the safe and rapid developments of vaccines and treatments.”
Still, more than 38,000 people, reportedly from 166 countries, have signed up.
In a petition, the group calls on the British government to “ringfence funds to create a Challenge Study Center with sufficient biocontainment capacity to quarantine 100-200 volunteers in COVID-19 human challenge trials.”
We need multiple vaccines to meet global demand, and some epidemiologists are considering COVID-19 human challenge trials to quickly narrow the field of promising vaccine candidates. Over 1,400 Britons have already volunteered. In the past, the government has provided funding for clinical trial centers during times of need. Today, the government should embrace the altruism of British volunteers and cement the UK’s leadership in future medical research by doing the same.
Among those who have signed up is Estefania Hidalgo, 32, a British photography student who works at a gas station, CNN reported.
“I do night shifts there, and it can be very lonely,” Hidalgo told CNN. “No one should be left behind. Old people, poor people, people of color. Everyone just deserves to be healthy.”
“This was a way for me to take back control of the situation, to feel like I was in a less hopeless place, and a less hopeless world, and be like, OK, I can do this. To make it better, I chose not to be in fear,” Hidalgo added.
While volunteers in such challenge trials are usually paid, experts told CNN that it’s important not to “pay an amount that could edge on coercive.” The network also cited critics as saying “challenge trials have limited use because the young, healthy people who take part don’t represent the broader population.”
Yet some experts said such a challenge trial could be useful. “It’s not clear that necessarily the first vaccines to be evaluated are going to be the best vaccines,” Peter Smith of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told CNN. “I think there’s a very strong case for exploring challenge trials to evaluate vaccines for a large number of potential Covid vaccines in development.”