March 26, 2020 | 1:09pm | Updated March 26, 2020 | 2:12pm
Doctors treat a COVID-19 patient in Italy.
Scientists should be able to sidestep ethical restrictions and infect healthy people with a small amount of the COVID-19 virus to speed up the race for a vaccine, experts argue in a controversial new report.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine called for normal regulations to be relaxed to allow volunteers to contract the virus in a week instead of six months, according to the Times.
“Such an approach is not without risks … but every week that vaccine roll-out is delayed will be accompanied by many thousands of deaths globally,” the scientists write.
The expedited testing could “shave months” off the time it takes to release a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has killed tens of thousands of people worldwide, the paper states.
As regulations currently stand, a volunteer must go through three phases when testing a vaccine — receiving a small dose, reaction observation, then waiting months to become naturally exposed to the virus.
The World Health Organization has previously estimated it could be a year before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
But the new study notes that worldwide quarantines will slow that process even further — and proposes that a group of 100 people be vaccinated, infected and deliberately exposed in a week.
“I think regulators will be open to it,” one of the authors, Peter Smith, told the Times.
But he admits that convincing a medical ethics board, which reviews factors such as how much risk volunteers face, may be difficult and controversial.
“Deliberate exposure of study participants clearly raises ethical concerns,” he says in the paper. “It may seem impermissible to ask people to take on the risk of severe illness or death, even for an important collective gain.”
However, the paper concludes, “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.”