The Atlantic

Let Volunteers Take the COVID Challenge

Young, healthy, informed people should be allowed to participate in vaccine trials.

Until scientists discover a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, the disease will inflict mass suffering. And experts say that safely developing, producing, and delivering a vaccine will likely take at least 18 months. That’s in part because, in the final phase of testing, researchers inject thousands or tens of thousands of subjects with the vaccine while others get a placebo, then they wait to see if the vaccinated group avoids infection. What if they instead gave a vaccine candidate to a smaller group of volunteers, then deliberately exposed them to the virus to more quickly learn if the vaccine works?

A recent article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests a “human challenge trial” of that sort. “Challenging volunteers with this live virus risks inducing severe disease and possibly even death,” the authors acknowledge. However, hastening deployment of a vaccine could significantly reduce death and disease, they argue––and the risk to volunteers could be acceptable if the volunteers are young and healthy, and get excellent care.

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