Abie Rohrig is one of more than 16,000 people — most of them young adults — who have signaled their support for a controversial method of speeding up the development of a vaccine by intentionally infecting dozens of volunteers. The signees of the online registry — a new website called 1 Day Sooner — have all checked a box next to the statement: “I am interested in being exposed to the coronavirus to speed up vaccine development.”
The practice is called a human-challenge study — or controlled human infection study — and it can truncate a conventional vaccine study by several months. The reason: Rather than waiting for months to assess what percentage thousands of vaccine-trial volunteers get infected with the disease in question while leading their day-to-day lives, a challenge trial is much simpler, in that it exposes about 100 volunteers directly to the pathogen — via syringe, cocktail, mosquito bite or nasal spray after an experimental vaccine or placebo is administered. (If the Covid-19 study comes to fruition, experts say it would likely be administered by nose drop.)
But if it’s high reward, it’s also high risk: Although Covid-19 is a much more deadly disease for the elderly and the compromised than healthy young adults, it is an unpredictable pathogen that has put star athletes in the hospital. What’s more, should something go wrong, treatment options are limited.