So-called “challenge studies” – to infect or not to infect, that is the question?

I was really interested in reading Fergal Walsh’s article today entitled “Coronavirus: Call to infect volunteers in Covid-19 vaccine hunt“; not least because I myself volunteered for a vaccine study 20 years ago and was subsequently (and intentionally) infected with Falciparum malaria in order to test the vaccine’s efficacy.

The consent process was good and I entered the study having a pretty clear idea of what was going to happen in detail. There were risks but these were reasonably quantifiable as it was a disease that was known about, had been around for a long time, and had at least some sort of predictability to it.

The ethical debate around this suggestion is sure to be strong, probably on both sides. The fundamental principle of respect for autonomy (my body, I get to choose what I do with it) as per the group 1 Day Sooner‘s message, versus the necessary (and critical) safeguards that exist around human research will no doubt push and pull with each other. The virus currently has no cure, no vaccine that has proven safety/efficacy and no in-depth understanding of the long-term effects.

If it does go ahead, the ethical debate will be key in forming robust protocols and consent processes. I hope as well that patient and public involvement in trial design would be high, I am really interested to see how this develops and what decisions are made.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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