Feb 18, 2021 - Health

U.K. to infect healthy people with COVID for world's first "human challenge trial"

Illustration of a person trapped inside a COVID-19 shaped maze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The U.K. plans to intentionally infect healthy volunteers with the coronavirus in the world's first "human challenge trial," the goal being to enhance understanding of the virus, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The effort is controversial, but the government says the study will help with developing new treatments and vaccines for the virus.

Details: The government-funded effort will, in the first stage, expose up to 90 young adults to the coronavirus "in a safe and controlled environment" to evaluate the amount of virus needed to cause infection.

  • The government hopes in later stages to quickly study vaccines and be able to compare them against one another.

What they're saying: Some experts question whether such a study is necessary, given the existence of highly-effective vaccines.

  • But others say that new vaccines will continue to be developed, and will need to be tested.
  • The human challenge trials could "give ourselves the potential to test new vaccines very quickly, and that’s really the primary purpose of this effort," Robert Read, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, told the Post.
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