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Researchers Are Starting to Infect People With COVID on Purpose

"Deliberately infecting volunteers with a known human pathogen is never undertaken lightly."

10. 20. 20 / Victor Tangermann
Image by Pixabay

UK researchers are preparing for a controversial experiment in which they will inject healthy human test subjects with the coronavirus — risky research that they say could speed up vaccine development, NPR reports.

The trial will be carried out by researchers at Imperial College London. The initial phase is aimed at finding the minimum amount of the virus necessary to cause COVID-19, which could help figure out whether severity of COVID-19 is linked to higher viral doses. The researchers will then try to study how the different vaccines work side-by-side to stop or prevent COVID-19.

Other teams are preparing to infect subjects deliberately. The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is currently working on two strains at a lab in Colorado, Nature reports, though it’s still waiting for final outcomes from phase 3 vaccine trials before going ahead. Researchers in Belgium are at work on a similar initiative, according to NPR.

The advantage of infecting volunteers on purpose is that researchers don’t have to wait for them to catch the disease by chance. But that also makes the technique controversial.


“Deliberately infecting volunteers with a known human pathogen is never undertaken lightly,” Peter Openshaw, co-investigator on the study at Impercial College London, said in a statement. “However, such studies are enormously informative about a disease, even one so well studied as COVID-19.”

The test is set to begin early next year, pending final regulatory approval. No specific treatment or vaccine to be tested as part of the experiment has been announced yet.

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