UK will be first country to infect people with Covid in ‘human challenge’ trial

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Britain is set to become the first country to deliberately infect its citizens with Covid-19 as part of new "human challenge" vaccine trials.

Experts from the NHS, academic and private sector will join forces with the UK government to launch the "ground-breaking" trials early next year.

Approximately 90 healthy adult volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 will be given the experimental new vaccine before they're exposed to the coronavirus in a safe and controlled environment.

The participants will then be monitored 24 hours a day for any side effects to see how well the vaccine works.

Scientists around the world have been battling for months to develop a safe and effective vaccine against Covid-19 which has killed more than a million people in less than a year.

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Dr Chris Chiu, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London and lead researcher on the human challenge study, said: "Human challenge studies can increase our understanding of Covid-19 in unique ways and accelerate development of the many potential new Covid-19 treatments and vaccines.

"Our number one priority is the safety of the volunteers. My team has been safely running human challenge studies with other respiratory viruses for over 10 years.

"No study is completely risk free, but the Human Challenge Programme partners will be working hard to ensure we make the risks as low as we possibly can.

"The UK's experience and expertise in human challenge trials as well as in wider Covid-19 science will help us tackle the pandemic, benefiting people in the UK and worldwide."

If this trial is approved by regulators and the ethic committee, it will begin in January with results expected by May 2021.

On Tuesday Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "We are doing everything we can to fight coronavirus, including backing our best and brightest scientists and researchers in their hunt for a safe and effective vaccine.

"The funding announced today for these ground-breaking but carefully controlled studies marks an important next step in building on our understanding of the virus and accelerating the development of our most promising vaccines which will ultimately help in beginning our return to normal life."

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said: "A safe, fully approved, and meticulously controlled human challenge model for Covid-19 that is conducted by experienced experts may help in the search for safe and effective vaccines.

"First, for the many vaccines still in the mid-stages of development, human challenge studies may help pick out the most promising ones to take forward into larger Phase III trials.

"Second, for vaccines which are in the late stages of development and already proven to be safe and effective through Phase III studies, human challenge studies could help us further understand if the vaccines prevent transmission as well as preventing illness."

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