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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsShould We Purposely Infect Healthy Volunteers With Covid-19? – WIRED (Victoria Turk | May 2020)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Should We Purposely Infect Healthy Volunteers With Covid-19? – WIRED (Victoria Turk | May 2020)

 


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Such studies could speed up the development of a vaccine—but would mean deliberately giving people a disease that could kill them.

IN LATE MARCH, Josh Morrison was sitting in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York, feeling miserable. Work had slowed down at the nonprofit he runs, which advocates for living organ donors, and he was worried about his parents and whether they were following the guidelines to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. He’d been planning to visit them in early April for their 40th anniversary in Florida, but had to cancel. “That was hard, and that was really sad,” he says. “I really want to be able to see my parents as soon as I can, and be back to a situation where you can do that.”

Ethical reflections when they are theoretical can be entertaining and engaging, but the stakes and consequences here are frightening and real.  In a world desperate for a cure, a vaccine or just an efficacious treatment, how far should we go?  Should we allow people to expose themselves to a risk of death or potentially longterm disability?

Morrison, who is 34, felt powerless. He wanted to be able to do something constructive. It was in this context that he came across a paper in The Journal of Infectious Diseases which put forward the case for human challenge studies of Covid-19 vaccine candidates. Challenge studies purposely infect healthy volunteers with a pathogen in order to study a disease or test a treatment or vaccine. This paper suggested that using human challenge studies could speed up the development of a Covid-19 vaccine by months, potentially saving thousands of lives. “The idea of speeding that all up and getting this stuff done with is pretty appealing,” Morrison says. “And also, I thought that I personally could participate in one of these.”
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After contacting some friends, Morrison set up 1 Day Sooner, a group that advocates on behalf of volunteers for Covid-19 human challenge studies. No such studies are yet being conducted, but at the time of writing, more than 24,000 people from 102 countries have signed up on the 1 Day Sooner website to express an interest in taking part in one. Globally, there have now been more than five million reported cases of Covid-19, and 300,000 deaths. Should we let people volunteer to be purposely exposed to a virus we know can sometimes be fatal?
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