DETROIT – While most people are doing everything they can to avoid getting the coronavirus, some people are volunteering to be infected with it.
They’re part of a movement pushing for challenge trials, research that would intentionally infect volunteers in order to speed up the development of an effective vaccine.
In a traditionally vaccine trial, volunteers receive either the vaccine or a placebo, then go about their usual lives. Scientists have to wait for enough of the volunteers to be exposed to the coronavirus naturally to see if the vaccine works or not. That can take a long time.
In a challenge trial, volunteers are directly exposed to the virus, speeding up the process -- but at a much greater risk.
Like so many people, Estefania Hidalgo has endured the challenges of living through a pandemic. But she wanted to do more. So she volunteered to be deliberately infected with the coronavirus.
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Alastair Fraser-Urquhart is also very keen to be infected. He helps with running the recruitment campaign Hidalgo signed up to. “1 Day Sooner” finds volunteers, so far tens of thousands around the world, and has been lobbying the UK government to make use of them through potentially risky research.
Plans are moving forward. Scientists are preparing a secure facility in London where they plan to deliberately infect volunteers with coronavirus.
The first step is a small one, but still critical. There would be 90 volunteers, ages 18 through 30 years old, who would be given tiny amounts -- by nose -- of COVID-19. The goal is to determine the absolute minimum amount required to get them sick enough to test if vaccines or treatments are effective -- but not too sick as to put their lives in danger.
Once tests are done, the volunteers would have to recover in isolation before going back to the public. Not all virologists support the plan, because of the ethical dilemma, of infecting healthy people without a recovery drug on hand.