Lawmakers Back Infecting People for Vaccine Trials

FDA hesitates, but bioethicists endorse the idea if done properly
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2020 5:20 PM CDT
This Vaccine Trial Would Need Volunteers
In this March 16 photo, a participant in a COVID-19 vaccine trial receives a shot.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Thirty-five House members have expressed support for intentionally infecting a few hundred people with the coronavirus in an effort to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. The young and healthy volunteers would first be given either the drug being tested or a placebo, the Hill reports. The alternative is giving subjects the vaccine after they've contracted the virus on their own, but backers say deliberate infections could trim months off the process, saving lives that would be lost in the interim. The lawmakers who wrote to the FDA endorsing the notion include Rep. Donna Shalala, who was once the secretary of Health and Human Services. The group compared the pandemic to war, "in which there is a long tradition of volunteers risking their health and lives on dangerous missions" to save others.

Nearly 1,500 people have signed up to join what's called a human challenge trial, per, through 1DaySooner. An FDA spokesman told the Hill that all options are being considered, but he added that such a trial "may present ethical and feasibility issues that can be avoided with the use of animal models." Ethicists are weighing in. A Rutgers University team produced a paper last month, per Nature, arguing that the trial could be done ethically and safely—even while saying, "It might seem as though anybody volunteering to participate in such a study lacks capacity for rational decision-making or must have misunderstood the informed-consent form." Arthur Caplan, a New York University bioethicist, and Stanley Plotkin, who helped develop the rubella vaccine, wrote that, in this situation, "Acceleration of that standard process is necessary." (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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