Researchers in the UK are now considering to deliberately infect volunteers with Covid-19 in order to speed up trials to develop a vaccine.
This comes after a warning from scientists that there could be extensive delays in producing a suitable Covid-19 vaccine if current UK infection rates remain low and if there are long waiting periods to determine whether candidate`s products are effective.
Jonathan Ives of the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at Bristol University explained how the new human trials could be contacted. “If we were to do this, we would be asking healthy people to put their wellbeing and their lives at risk for the good of society at large,” he said.
“On the other hand, taking that risk could speed up vaccine development and save many, many lives. So I think there could be grounds for going ahead with challenge trials, though it would be based on a very finely balanced argument.”
The human challenge studies will require a sufficient number of volunteers to be exposed to the virus to consider whether the vaccine protects them or not. However, if their chances of being infected after exposure to a person with the coronavirus are low it will take longer to demonstrate the effectiveness of a vaccine candidate.
WHO said that volunteers aged 18 – 30 were the least risky group to infect. Similar trials conducted before to test the efficacy of vaccines for flu and the common cold had been successful. “Challenge studies should then be conducted in specialised facilities, with especially close monitoring and ready access to early supportive treatment for participants,” the WHO guidelines added.
It has been suggested that the human challenge trials should be conducted as soon as possible to ensure that when a vaccine candidate is available it can be tried instantly.