Healthy volunteers should be infected with coronavirus to speed up vaccine, says expert – The Sun

HEALTHY volunteers should be infected with coronavirus to speed up the roll-out of a potential vaccine, experts have said.

A group of senior scientists argue that relaxing current ethical restrictions would mean a shot could be available months earlier than expected.

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The team warn that every week the vaccine is delayed, there will be thousands more deaths globally.

So far, Covid-19 has killed more than 22,000 people worldwide while 492,000 have been infected.

The World Health Organisation has said that it could be at least a year before a vaccine is available – because it needs to pass trials before being certified as safe to use.

Usually, drugs and vaccines are tested in phases before they approved for human use.

The first involves safety testing where a small group of people are given a dose to see how they react.

Phase two sees more people tested while scientists work out the right dosage.

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They will also test the vaccine against a placebo.

Phase three – the final stage of testing – involves hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people across multiple sites for a long period of time.

It means researchers have to wait until enough people have become naturally exposed to the virus to see if the vaccine has worked.

Lockdown slowdown

The scientists, including Harvard's Professor Marc Lipsitch, say that ironically, the current lockdown will actually slow down this who process significantly.

Instead, they suggest that if a small group of around 100 people were first vaccinated and then infected, then we could find out if the vaccine had protected them within just a week.

Writing in a paper, the trio of scientists said: "Deliberate exposure of study participants to SARS-CoV-2clearly raises ethical concerns.

We actually ask people to take such risks for others' direct gain every time we ask volunteer firefighters to rush into burning buildings

"It may seem impermissible to ask people to take on risk of severe illness or death, even for an important collective gain.

"But we actually ask people to take such risks for others' direct gain every time we ask volunteer firefighters to rush into burning buildings; relatives to donate a live organ to loved ones; healthy volunteers to participate in drug and vaccine toxicity trials with no prospect of improving their health."

Professor Peter Smith, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the paper, said the approach could “shave months” off vaccine development time.

He told The Times: “I think regulators will be open to it," but added that ethics boards, who have to consider whether the scientists should deliberately administer a potentially dangerous virus, “may be a more difficult challenge”.

Worth the risk

The epidemiologist and his colleagues believe the risk may be worth it though.

They added: “Advancing the registration and rollout of an efficacious vaccine, even by a few months, could save many thousands of lives and commands enormous societal value."

The team say that using young, healthy volunteers in the initial stages of the trial provides a safety net.

They suggest using volunteers aged 20 to 45 as they should not be at serious risk from infection.

Current evidence suggests that providing they don't have underlying conditions, it is extremely unlikely to result in severe illness or death.

The experts say that the volunteers would be monitored very closely – and should anything happen they would receive "excellent care" in "state of the art" facilities.

Volunteers would also have the risks fully explained to them so that they can make a decision about going forward.

MPs heard yesterday that several coronavirus vaccines are being developed and could be available in six months.

Prof Andrew Pollard, from Oxford University told the Commons science and technology committee that the timeline depended on trials going well and production sites being expanded.

However, he admitted a timescale of 12 to 18 months was more likely.

The jabs would protect high risk groups such as the sick and elderly who are currently being shielded at home.

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