In an open letter to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 125 of the world’s top scientists have called on the U.S. government to start conducting human challenge trials to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development.
Citing the urgency of finding a vaccine for the deadly virus, the scientists — among them 15 Nobel laureates as well as the director of Oxford University’s large COVID-19 vaccine program — say the ethical objections to infecting healthy volunteers with a disease that has no known cure are outweighed by the common good.
In a similar letter sent to the FDA in April, 35 U.S. lawmakers also encouraged the use of challenge trials, saying “justifiable risks may be taken” (CenterWatch Weekly, April 27). The agency responded by suggesting animal testing could be used instead.
NIH Director Francis Collins’ previously stated position on the subject has been that challenge trials are open to discussion, but that NIH is not yet ready to move forward with a human challenge trial plan.
Earlier this month, members of NIH’s Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) working group wrote in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that deliberately infecting healthy individuals without a life-saving treatment on hand would be unethical. ACTIV members expressed support for traditional randomized controlled trials of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines as the most efficient path to a vaccine.
The July 15 letter to the NIH was published on the website of 1 Day Sooner, a nonprofit organization that has recruited more than 32,000 healthy volunteers in 140 countries who are willing to participate in challenge trials.
To read the letter, click here: https://bit.ly/2CKSFBD.