Thousands of people sign up to be exposed to Covid-19 for science – could cut a vaccine study by months


Abie Rohrig had just turned 18 when he told his mom he would be donating a kidney to save a stranger’s life. Her answer: No you’re not. He did it anyway — the organ went to a man about his age — and his mom was so inspired she went and donated a kidney herself.

So Rohrig expected her to understand when he told her that, for the benefit of humanity, he may volunteer to become infected with Covid-19.

Rohrig is one of more than 16,000 people — most of them young adults — who have signaled their support for a controversial method of speeding up the development of a vaccine by intentionally infecting dozens of volunteers. The signees of the online registry — a new website called 1 Day Sooner — have all checked a box next to the statement: “I am interested in being exposed to the coronavirus to speed up vaccine development.”

The practice is called a human-challenge study — or controlled human infection study — and it can truncate a conventional vaccine study by several months. The reason: Rather than waiting for months to assess what percentage thousands of vaccine-trial volunteers get infected with the disease in question while leading their day-to-day lives, a challenge trial is much simpler, in that it exposes about 100 volunteers directly to the pathogen — via syringe, cocktail, mosquito bite or nasal spray after an experimental vaccine or placebo is administered. (If the Covid-19 study comes to fruition, experts say it would likely be administered by nose drop.)

Conventional vaccine trials typically consist of three phases — the first, in which fewer than 100 participants are dosed to determine the safety; the second, in which the number of participants ramps up into the hundreds; and the third, in which the study is broadened to include thousands of people.

Typically, in that third phase, the participants return to their daily lives, and researchers — over a period of months — compare rates of infection between the placebo and test groups.

A human-challenge trial can replace a third phase, the Journal article says, short-circuiting the timeline by several months because researchers don’t have to wait for participants to get infected the organic way — by interacting with people at work, at school, in houses of worship or in homes. Instead, they expose the volunteers to the pathogen right then and there, in the lab. US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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