The U.K is to become the world's first country to expose healthy people to the Covid-19 virus and conduct a human challenge trial which will begin within a month. The study which will include 90 healthy young people aged 18-30 received the ethics approval this week.
Human challenge trials are trials in which participants are intentionally dosed (whether or not they have been vaccinated) with the virus being targeted.
The study is being backed by a 46.6 million investment from the British government. People interested in taking part in this trial have been asked to express their interest via the UK Covid Challenge website.
The volunteers will be first exposed to the Covid-19 virus in a safe and controlled environment to analyze in detail the nature of infection like how the virus is passed from person to person, the smallest amount of virus required to cause the infection and explore the body's immune response.
After being exposed to the virus, participants will be closely monitored by highly trained medics and scientists for 24 hours a day to examine how the virus behaves in the body and to ensure the safety of volunteers. The virus variant used will be the one that has been circulating in the country since last year and not the new mutant variants that have recently emerged. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) which is UK's clinical trials ethics body said that the old variant is used since it has shown to be of very less risk in young healthy adults.
Once the initial study has taken place, participants could be given an approved vaccine and once again exposed to the Covid-19 virus to identify the most effective vaccines against the virus.
Human challenge trials have always had controversies surrounding it since people are deliberately exposed to the virus. But such trials are not new and are ethical when they meet certain criteria. Human challenge trials have previously been carried out for cholera, typhoid, malaria and even influenza.
According to WHO, it is essential such challenge trials are "conducted within an ethical framework in which truly informed consent is given" and that they should be undertaken with "abundant forethought, caution, and oversight."
Human infection studies will help accelerate vaccine development and the data procured from the study will also help analyze how the Covid-19 virus affects us as soon as it enters the body. The ultimate aim of the trial is to find which vaccines and treatment work best in battling the disease.