In Depth

Infect volunteers to speed a coronavirus vaccine?

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Science  03 Apr 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6486, pp. 16
DOI: 10.1126/science.368.6486.16

Summary

A push is on to speed the coronavirus vaccine search by intentionally attempting on infect volunteers who receive experimental "candidate" products. This "human challenge model" dates back to the first vaccine, but it raises complex ethical questions about risks versus benefits. Some researchers who conduct human challenges with other diseases also question how much this would accelerate the search for a vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. Proponents counter that risks can be minimized in several ways. First, they would conduct the tests in young adults, who, as a group, are at reduced risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. If a drug proved its worth against the disease, that would further reduce the risk of harm. The virus used to challenge the participants could also be taken from a person who had mild disease or even be laboratory-weakened or an artificial construct that contains viral genes in a harmless "vector." No actual human challenge trial has yet been proposed, but ethicists say now is the time to start to discuss the details of how this might be done in a way that provides the most benefit for society and the least amount of harm to individuals.

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