Why human challenge trials for a COVID-19 vaccine are worth the risks

A human challenge trial of a coronavirus vaccine candidate involves volunteers knowingly exposing themselves to a virus that has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide. A human challenge trial, though potentially dangerous for the volunteers, is one of the best ways to ensure that a vaccine actually works.

And yet human challenge trials were so effective in fighting other deadly diseases that researchers believe the risk is worth it.

Vaccine human challenge trials have been used for other diseases, too, such as malaria, typhoid, and Dengue fever, according to Josh Morrison, the cofounder of 1Day Sooner, an organization that recruits people for these trials. He said that these trials are used because they can speed up the development of a vaccine. 

More than 20,000 people in about a hundred counties are willing to assume the risks in the hopes of helping mitigate a second wave of the pandemic, Morrison said. The process, as he explained it, is long. The earliest that trials could start is in the fall. But first, the FDA needs to allow the live virus to be used for testing and the drug companies need to have vaccines ready to test.

If that happens, then volunteers get isolated in a biocontainment facility for three to four weeks to make sure they won't spread the disease to anyone else. The one difference with COVID-19 is no proven rescue therapy exists that will help participants clear the virus if the vaccines are not effective.

You can learn more about the COVID-19 human challenge trials at 1daysooner.org. Compensation for volunteers is discussed further along in the process, Morrison told FOX 5 NY.

Earlier this week, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said that work is being accelerated on around seven or eight top candidates for a vaccine to combat the coronavirus.

"But we have more than a hundred candidates," Tedros said. "We are focusing on the few candidates we have which can bring probably better results and accelerating those candidates with better potential."

Regardless of when a vaccine may be approved, Dr. Marco Cavaleri, an official with the European Medicines Agency predicted that some medicines to at least treat COVID-19 could be approved "before the summer," citing ongoing clinical trials.

With The Associated Press


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