There are encouraging results from clinical trials of potential coronavirus vaccines from the experimental treatments being developed in the Uk and US. Studies have suggested several of the experimental vaccines have produced a good immune response in volunteers without serious side effects.
There are 23 potential coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials, with another 140 in early development. However, there is news today that Russian state-sponsored hackers have been targeting research in the UK, US, and Canada.
Some scientists are now calling for volunteers to be exposed to the virus to accelerate the research, including some noted Nobel laureates.
They have signed and sent an open letter to the US National Institutes of Health claiming these ‘challenge trials’ could help the world reach a vaccine faster.
The early results from trials in the US from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotech firm Moderna suggest that both vaccines induce a good immune response. Similar results are expected from the trial of a vaccine from Oxford University.
The Oxford vaccine is designed to stimulate two parts of the immune system – producing neutralising antibodies and T-cells – both of which can play a key in preventing viral infection.
However, these results do not indicate if any of them would work in the real world, and neither do they tell if they completely prevent infection, or simply stop people from falling ill, but still pass the virus on.
The true test of a vaccine would be to see if volunteers are exposed to the virus and do not get infected, which could take well into next year, as infection rates in countries developing a vaccine are falling.
According to 1 Day Sooner, an organisation which advocates challenge studies, it should not be left to chance. Their campaign has found 30,000 would-be volunteers in 140 countries who have stated they are prepared to take part in challenge studies.
The organisation has the support of 100 prominent scientists, including 15 Novel laureates, who said in their open letter that it would involve deliberately exposing healthy, young volunteers to the coronavirus after being given the vaccine.
1 Day Sooner says the chance of volunteers dying would be lower than for a live kidney donation or during childbirth. The campaign group argues it is unethical not to do challenge studies because they could accelerate research to find an effective coronavirus vaccine and potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives.
The letter states: “If challenge trials can safely and effectively speed the vaccine development process, then there is a formidable presumption in favour of their use, which would require a very compelling ethical justification to overcome.”
One of the signers of the letter is Professor Adrian Hill, who is the director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, who is developing one of the leading potential COVID-19 vaccines. He said that human challenge studies could happen in the coming months.
Dr Francis Collins, director of the NIH, has said COVID-19 challenge trials are “on the table for discussion – not on the table to start designing a plan”.
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