Up to 90 young people will be deliberately exposed to COVID-19 in a $60 million world-first trial funded by the UK government.
The volunteers will be unvaccinated, aged between 18 and 30 and paid about £4500 ($8000) for their time and risk-taking.
The aim of the trial is to “give doctors greater understanding of COVID-19 and help support the pandemic response by aiding vaccine and treatment development,” according to a statement from gov.uk.
Specifically, this initial study will “help doctors understand how the immune system reacts to coronavirus and identify factors that influence how the virus is transmitted, including how a person who is infected with COVID-19 virus transmits infectious virus particles into the environment”.
Setting aside the ‘whoa’ factor, perhaps the most startling thing about this study is how much it suggests that doctors and research scientists are still in the dark about questions of transmission – an issue that’s come to the fore with recent quarantine hotel outbreaks.
One of the basic questions being asked is: What is the smallest amount of virus required to infect somebody?
These sorts of studies have been done with other diseases
These sorts of trials are called “human challenge” studies – and they have been around for decades.
According to the government statement, human challenge studies have been performed safely and have played important roles in accelerating the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and influenza.
In this trial, said to begin “in the next few weeks”, the volunteers will receive droplets of the virus into their nostrils at the Royal Free Hospital, a specialist and secure clinical research facility in London that is designed to contain the virus.
Highly trained medics and scientists “will be on hand to carefully examine how the virus behaves in the body and to ensure the safety of volunteers”.
The trial apparently received ethics approval this week – and now the call for volunteers is on.
The trial requires volunteers to remain in isolation, under 24-hour supervision, for two weeks. They also need to attend to follow-up appointments.
The study will initially use the version of the virus “that has been circulating in the UK since March 2020 and has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults”.
Need money for a ticket home from Old Blighty?
Interim chair of the Vaccines Taskforce Clive Dix said: “We have secured a number of safe and effective vaccines for the UK, but it is essential that we continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.
“We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection.”
Young Aussies stranded in the UK can investigate this money-making opportunity at the official website.