Tens of thousands of people joined a campaign by a group called “1 day earlier” to get a candidate for an experimental vaccine and then face the coronavirus in a controlled environment.
Among them is Estefania Hidalgo, a 32-year-old photography student in Bristol, England, who works at a gas station to pay her bills.
“I work night shifts there and it can be very lonely,” she recalls on a sunny day near her home. Going through the long hours of locking with just podcasts to keep company, she describes the discovery of the challenging test drive ̵
“I was shaken,” she said. “No one should be abandoned. The elderly, the poor, the colored. Everyone just deserves to be healthy.”
“It was a way for me to regain control of the situation, to feel like I was in a less hopeless place and a less hopeless world, and to be like, well, I can do that. To do it better, I chose not to be afraid. “
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The so-called trials of human challenges, although sometimes contradictory, are nothing new. They have been used for cholera, typhoid, malaria and even the common cold. But unlike these diseases, we still do not have a fully effective treatment for Covid-19 if the experimental vaccine fails.
Experts say that volunteers involved in challenges usually receive compensation for their time and participation, but organizers must be careful not to pay an amount that could be forced.
Critics also say that challenge trials have limited use because the young, healthy people who participate do not represent the wider population.
Since last month, however, the UK government has said it is in active talks to co-operate in a similar process, the world’s first coronavirus.
Already, several major vaccine developers – including AstraZeneca, Sanofi and BioNTech – have said they have no interest in participating. Eleven vaccine candidates are in phase 3 trials, in which tens of thousands of people are given a vaccine candidate, let them live their daily lives, and then monitored to see if they have a contract with Covid-19.
“It’s not clear that the first vaccines to be evaluated will necessarily be the best vaccines,” said Peter Smith of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “I think there is a very strong argument for investigating challenging vaccine evaluation attempts for a large number of potential Covid vaccines under development.”
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The discussion trials are so advanced that the British Health Research Authority (HRA), which must approve any research involving human subjects, has a panel on the evaluation of medical ethics behind all potential proposals.
“There are very few studies that carry zero risk,” said Terence Stevenson, who heads the HRA. “Every day in this country and in every country, health professionals voluntarily take the risk of caring for other people.
“People who, in their opinion, may be willing to do this for the benefit of the wider society – I personally don’t find this surprising.”
Alastair Fraser-Urquhart, just 18, would readily agree that his decision to volunteer was inconspicuous.
“It was just such an instant, healthy idea,” he said. “The risk for me is small. But by taking that small risk on myself, I can potentially protect thousands of other people from having to be infected without agreeing.”
Fraser-Urquhart was so drawn to the idea back in June that he joined “1 day earlier” and is now leading a campaign for the British government to facilitate the first coronavirus challenge process. He postponed the start of the university for a year to work on the project.
If all goes according to plan and he is screened, he hopes to register at a biological containment facility, get a vaccine candidate, and stay in a room for many weeks.
In normal phase 3 studies, there is always a placebo group – some people who do not receive the vaccine – to have a baseline level of infection. But there is a big difference between the spread of infection in everyday life and deliberate exposure, albeit in a medical setting.
There is some disagreement as to whether the coronavirus trial will require a placebo group. Stevenson guessed he didn’t, but Smith wasn’t so sure.
“The problem,” Smith said, “is essentially that if you give a group of volunteers a vaccine and then challenge them and none of them develop the disease, it’s because the vaccine was protective or because something is wrong with the way they were vaccinated.” caused so as not to become infected? And you can’t answer that question definitively unless you have a control group. “
Not surprisingly, Fraser-Urquhart’s enthusiastic participation paused his father for a moment.
“Obviously he’s not at the top of the list of things you’d want from your son,” says Andrew Fraser-Urquhart, 52. “The first thing I thought was, at least now I know what he’s doing in his room for the last three weeks on his computer, “he said with a laugh.
They talked about what it would involve, and despite a lump in his throat, he realized that there was no stopping Alastair, who spoke of the intricacies of challenging science in a way that disproved his teenage years.
“It’s at the forefront of science and technology,” Andrew said. “It’s something that benefits others. It’s something quite bold. It’s something a little different. And that’s short. So when you put it in those words, no, it’s a surprise at all.”
Simply put, he is undoubtedly proud of his son.
The risk, of course, is small, but not zero. Less than 1% of Covid-19 deaths in the United States are among those 34 years of age or younger. But the long-term health effects of the virus are still largely misunderstood.
For Alastair, this is an even greater reason to take on the challenge, speed up the end of the pandemic and help more people in the general public avoid these long-term consequences.
“If ever it’s time to cross boundaries and find out how fast we can do things and how well we can do things and take risks for other people, now is.”
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