Healthy, young volunteers will be infected with coronavirus in order for scientists to test vaccines and treatments as part of the world’s first Covid-19 ‘human challenge’ study, which is set to take place in the UK.
The study, having already received approval from the relevant ethics boards, will commence within the next month and see 90 people aged 18-30 recruited in total.
The volunteers will be exposed to the coronavirus in a safe and controlled environment while medics monitor their health and the effects Covid-19 has on them. Scientists hope the study will provide previously unattainable insights into the virus and how it operates in the body.
The development of treatments for a wide variety of diseases have been assisted by human challenge studies, including malaria, typhoid, cholera and flu.
Clive Dix, interim chair of the Vaccines Taskforce, said: “We have secured a number of safe and effective vaccines for the UK, but it is essential that 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.”
“We have hugely effective Covid-19 vaccines already so why do we need challenge trials?” asked James Gallagher, BBC health and science correspondent.
“First, they tell us things that are almost impossible to discover in the real world.
“How much virus does it take to start an infection? How does the immune system mount its initial defense? Can you tell which people will develop symptoms or not?
“The trials in the UK will start off by focusing on these fundamental scientific questions.
“But there are also new vaccines in the pipeline and the virus itself is evolving. Later this year it will become almost impossible to run large-scale Covid vaccine trials in the UK because so many people will have been immunized.
“But challenge trials involving just a small number of volunteers will still give the answer to crucial questions – from how second-generation vaccines compare, to whether vaccines protect against new variants.”
Here in the US, the White House’s latest coronavirus press conference provided latest updates on the vaccination efforts and how the virus is behaving across the country.
A further increase in the weekly allocations of vaccine doses to States, tribes and territories was announced, from 11 million doses to 13.5 million doses this week, signaling a total increase in vaccine allocations of just under 60% during the first four weeks of the Biden-Harris administration.
It was also revealed that the weekly vaccine supply to local pharmacies was being doubled from 1 million to 2 million doses starting next week. Teams are also being mobilized to administer shots across the country, with an order just being signed to allow retired doctors and nurses to give shots.
“Our seven-day daily average of 1.7 million compares to an average of 892,000, the week before president Biden took office. That is almost double in just four weeks. Throughout this work, we’re putting equity front and center. Partnering with States to increase vaccinations in the hardest hit and hardest to reach communities, increasing supply to convenient and trusted locations like community health centers,” Dr. Wilensky said at the coronavirus press briefing.
“Deploying mobile units and improving data collection so that we have a better understanding of the inequities currently experienced.
“Let me be very clear, we have much more work to do on all fronts. But we are taking the actions we need to beat this virus. There is a path out of this pandemic, but how quickly we exit this crisis depends on all of us,” he continued.
“That’s why I encourage everyone to take the advice of Dr. Fauci and Dr. Nunez-Smith. Follow the public health guidance, wear masks, social distance and get vaccinated when it’s your turn. We will do everything we can possibly do as a federal government to defeat this virus. But it will take all of us stepping up to do our part.
“We continue to see the daily number of reported deaths fluctuate. The latest data indicate deaths declined by 0.6% to an average of 3,076 deaths per day from February 9th to February 15th. These numbers are a painful reminder of all those we have lost and continue to lose our family members, our friends, our neighbors, and our co-workers to this pandemic. While cases and hospitalizations continue to move in the right direction, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic.
“And we continue to have more cases than we did even during last summer’s peak. And the continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month if we let our guard down.”