COVID-19 human challenge trials could save tens of thousands of lives by quickly narrowing the field of promising candidates, and there is strong reason to believe that signaling clear public support for these trials via an official petition could meaningfully accelerate preparation.
Why COVID-19 Human Challenge Trials?
In a COVID-19 human challenge trial, willing participants would receive the vaccine candidate and, once the vaccine takes effect, be deliberately exposed to live coronavirus. The ability to observe participants closely and gather samples while tracing the progress of infection in real time, knowing exactly when they were infected and with what dose, and being able to follow up over a long period, would offer an unprecedented level of scientific and medical insight into an unfamiliar virus. It would also help us test vaccines far faster. If a challenge trial brings us one day closer to the development of an additional vaccine that could avert just 25% of daily COVID-19 deaths, it would save 1,250 lives. If a challenge trial brings us a month closer, it’d save 37,500 lives.
To learn more about COVID-19 human challenge trials:
- Watch this Vox video
- Read this piece by Dr. Sayantan Banerjee in The Telegraph
- Read this paper in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases
Why Is It Cost-Effective To Sign The Petition?
For one, it is remarkably easy (takes around 20 seconds), so even a very small chance that your signature makes a difference tips the scale in any cost-effectiveness calculation on the margin.
More broadly, though, signaling a groundswell of public support for COVID-19 human challenge trials has directly led to faster preparation for these trials. In May, a NIH document noted that their consideration of challenge trials “has been driven almost entirely by the altruism of potential volunteer advocates and the intense considerations of bioethicists.”
1Day Sooner, which has worked systematically to include volunteers in the public conversation about challenge trials, launched an open letter in support of COVID-19 challenge trials on July 15 that was signed by over 100 academics and experts as well as 2,000 potential challenge trial volunteers. A week later, the Washington Post Editorial Board wrote in favor of challenge trial preparation. Within a few weeks, Reuters reported that the National Institutes of Health were preparing a coronavirus strain for a COVID-19 challenge trial, in part due to “pressure from advocacy groups such as 1Day Sooner.”
The logic behind the effectiveness of public advocacy for challenge trials is that vaccine developers want assurance that their decision to deliberately infect people with a dangerous virus won’t prompt public backlash. By making clear that the public is actually on board with these trials, stakeholders have a safety net to move forward.
We are now launching a Canada and UK petition campaign because Oxford’s Jenner Institute and several Canadian MPs have signaled interest in conducting a COVID-19 human challenge trial. By showing broad support for these trials, we hope to make it easier for more stakeholders to come out in favor of these trials.