Should researchers shelve plans to deliberately infect people with the coronavirus?

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U.K. scientists are moving ahead with plans to infect volunteers with the virus that causes COVID-19. Such experiments have been done with other pathogens, including flu viruses (pictured here).

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

By Warren CornwallNov. 20, 2020 , 12:00 PM

Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of young volunteers offered to risk their health by letting scientists intentionally infect them with the pandemic coronavirus, hoping to speed the hunt for a vaccine or treatment. Several research groups announced plans to run these so-called human challenge trials, even as some scientists questioned whether they could be conducted ethically.

Now, with the recent news that conventional human trials have produced at least two very promising vaccines, scientists are debating whether planned challenge trials are still needed. In the United States, one nascent effort appears to be on hold. In the United Kingdom, however, researchers say they are moving ahead. “There are still many strong arguments for pursuing” human challenge trials, says Christopher Chiu, an immunologist at Imperial College in London and lead researcher for the proposed U.K. trial.

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In traditional human trials, researchers …

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