Clinical researcher working in a lab.

Human challenge trials hold promise for next-generation COVID vaccines

These investigations could accelerate effective development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine as well.

By Stanley Plotkin, MD and Josh Morrison, JD, MedPage Today

Two years ago, the prospect of deliberately infecting fully informed volunteers with COVID-19 to aid in vaccine research and development was controversial. We and many others argued that the risks were justifiable, and the reservations of some bioethicists did not deter nearly 40,000 people from over 160 countries from expressing interest in volunteering for these investigations, called human challenge trials. Yet in the end, while they have been extensively pursued in the U.K., there were no such studies in the U.S.

We have made great strides against COVID-19 illness in the form of vaccination and treatments, but there are still thousands of deaths in the U.S. every week. Even as COVID-19 moves toward endemicity, it remains “pretty brutal” in the words of journalist David Wallace-Wells, and can still be especially severe in the unvaccinated.

Thus, many experts agree: we need new vaccines to limit the spread of the virus. The current generation of vaccines offers strong protection against serious illness and death, but their edge has dulled against new variants, and they do not always prevent infection and transmission of the virus. Read more …