Tens of thousands of volunteers have signed up for so-called human challenge trials in which they receive an experimental COVID-19 vaccine and then infected with the deadly bug to test its effectiveness, according to a report.
The controversial trials have been used for cholera, typhoid, malaria and even the common cold — but unlike for those illnesses, there are no completely effective treatments for the coronavirus yet, should the experimental vaccine fail, CNN reported.
Among those who are willing to brave COVID-19 in the campaign by a group called 1 Day Sooner is Estefania Hidalgo, 32, a British photography student who works at a gas station.
“I do night shifts there, and it can be very lonely,” Hidalgo told CNN recently, as she described how she discovered the challenge trial movement.
“No one should be left behind. Old people, poor people, people of color. Everyone just deserves to be healthy,” she said.
“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.
Volunteers are usually compensated for their time and participation, but organizers must be careful not to pay an excessive amount that could border on being coercive, according to experts cited by the networks.
Critics of challenge trials also argue that they are of limited use because the young, healthy volunteers who participate don’t represent the wider population.
Several large drug makers, including AstraZeneca, Sanofi and BioNTech, have said that they have no interest in participating in challenge trials – though the British government has said it was considering taking part.
“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,” he added.
Alastair Fraser-Urquhart signed up to be a volunteer for 1 Day SoonerFacebook
In the UK, a panel from the Health Research Authority is on standby to evaluate the medical ethics involved in any potential proposals.
“There’s very little research that carries zero risk,” said HRA chief Terence Stephenson told the network. “Every day in this country and every country, health-care professionals voluntarily put themselves at risk to care for other people.
“People who, in their judgment, might be willing to do that for the benefit of wider society — I don’t personally find that surprising,” he said.
Alastair Fraser-Urquhart, 18, described his decision to volunteer as a “common sense idea.”
“The risk to me is tiny. But by taking that small risk on myself, I can potentially protect thousands of other people from having to be infected without consenting to it,” said the teen, who joined 1 Day Sooner and is leading a campaign for the UK to facilitate the first COVID-19 challenge trial.
As of Monday, 1 Day Sooner had 38,048 volunteers from 166 countries, according to its website.