U.K. approves controversial challenge trials for COVID-19 vaccines

Feb. 17, 2021

The U.K. has approved plans to purposefully infect young, healthy volunteers with the coronavirus to study its impacts and the efficacy of vaccines. 

Called human challenge trials, the studies have been sharply debated by medical ethics experts for years but used in the past to study other viruses such as malaria, cholera and the flu. To mitigate the potential for harm in its volunteers, researchers in the U.K. will select up to 90 participants between the ages of 18 and 30 years old and infect them with a strain of the virus involved in the first outbreak, rather than the most recent strain found to be circulating in the U.K.

The researchers will then monitor the patients around the clock, eventually inoculating them with a vaccine — they have not yet said which company’s vaccine — to test how well it guards against infection and symptoms. 

For the studies, the state-run National Health Services will work with scientists from the Imperial College London and hVIVO Services Ltd., a private company with a track record of conducting human challenge trials. 

So far, 3,500 people in the U.K. have already volunteered through a nonprofit to be a part of challenge trials.

Read the Wall Street Journal report.