If you were young and healthy would you volunteer to be infected with coronavirus to test vaccines and treatments in the world’s first Covid-19 “human challenge” study?
No? Well, give a thought to the 90 people between the ages of 18 and 30 who’ll be exposed to the virus – albeit in a safe and controlled environment.
Such human challenge studies are one of the reasons we have treatments for a number of infections, including malaria, typhoid, cholera and flu.
The aim of this latest UK challenge study is to fathom the smallest dose of coronavirus needed to cause infection, and how the body’s immune system handles it.
That could lead to the development of new vaccines and treatments.
Clive Dix, interim chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, says: “We have secured a number of safe and effective vaccines for the UK, but it is essential we continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.
“We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection.”
They will answer important questions like how much virus is needed to start an infection? What is the first thing the immune system does? How do you figure out which people will develop symptoms or not?
Our vaccination programme is so successful it will be very difficult to mount large-scale Covid vaccine trials because so many people will have been immunised. This is where challenge trials come in as they involve a small number of volunteers to help answer crucial questions like whether vaccines protect against new variants.
Chief investigator Dr Chris Chiu, of Imperial College London, said: “We are asking for volunteers aged between 18 and 30 to join this research endeavour and help us to understand how the virus infects people and how it passes so successfully between us.”
In case you feel like volunteering this is how it goes. You’ll first have tests to show that you’re healthy and haven’t been infected by the virus.
Then you’ll have the virus squirted up your nose and spend 14 days in quarantine in hospital, while being closely monitored by a medical team. The study aims to find out how the virus grows in the nose in the early stages of infection before symptoms appear.
And in case you really are serious about taking part, you’ll get around £4,500 over the course of a year which will include follow-up tests and eventual exposure to new variants to find out the most effective jabs.