To anticipate vaccine, UK studies exposing volunteers to coronavirus

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Scientists rushed and put forward everything possible to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 in all possible ways, but now they have reached the point that cannot be accelerated: phase 3, which consists of vaccinating volunteers and waiting for them to contact the virus to see if the formula really offers protection. However, the UK is evaluating a way to try to get these results more quickly: to purposely infect some volunteers.

The plans were revealed by the website Financial Times and confirmed by BBC. The British government says that, at this point, there are still only discussions on the subject, and there is still no type of contract signed for this type of experiment. The tests would take place in London.

The big problem with phase 3 is that it is out of the researchers’ control. Thousands of people are vaccinated or given a placebo in the hope that some of them will accidentally expose themselves to the virus. The studies that opened their protocols indicate that between this giant group, between 150 and 160 are expected to be infected by mid-2021. To determine the effectiveness, they look at the proportion of cases in each group: if the one who received the placebo was contaminated much more than whoever received the vaccine means that the formula works, at least partially.

This process would be considerably faster if scientists could carry out what is called a “challenge”, which is nothing more than exposing someone to the virus on purpose. During the animal testing phase, this is the method used to ascertain whether the candidate vaccine is worth advancing to human testing. From the point of view of ethics, however, using people for this type of experiment has great implications, especially when it is a disease with a high lethal potential.

A BBC notes that this type of experiment has been carried out before with humans to test vaccines against diseases such as flu, clergy and typhoid, but in all these cases there was an effective and proven treatment to prevent the development of the disease in case of vaccine failure . In the case of Covid-19

In an interview with Today’s radio program, BBC, Professor Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford (but not involved with the vaccine developed by the university), defended the idea, pointing out that complications for young people without comorbidities are very rare, and volunteers would be closely monitored to observe how the immune system responds to the challenge and to treat them quickly if the vaccine fails to protect them.

The same program even interviewed a young 18-year-old university student willing to participate in this test if the discussions for its realization proceed. He claimed that, for him, it made sense to have this experiment, since it could save thousands of lives by speeding up the development of a vaccine. Others are also likely to be willing to do so.


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