UK to infect healthy volunteers to speed up COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Updated: 21 October, 2020 09:08 IST | Agencies | London

The approach, called a challenge study, is risky but proponents say it may produce results faster than standard research, which waits to see if volunteers who have been given an experimental treatment get sick

A cyclist rides past graffiti against further coronavirus restrictions in Manchester on Monday. Pic/AFP
A cyclist rides past graffiti against further coronavirus restrictions in Manchester on Monday. Pic/AFP

UK researchers are preparing to begin a controversial experiment that will infect healthy volunteers with coronavirus to study the disease in hopes of speeding up the development of a vaccine.

The approach, called a challenge study, is risky but proponents say it may produce results faster than standard research, which waits to see if volunteers who have been given an experimental treatment get sick. The government is preparing to invest 33.6 million pounds ($43.4 million) in the study.

Imperial College London said on Tuesday that the study, involving healthy volunteers between 18 and 30, would be conducted in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and hVivo, a company that has experience conducting testing.

"There is much we can learn in terms of immunity, the length of vaccine protection, and reinfection," Vaccine Taskforce chair Kate Bingham said.

What are treatment options for COVID?

There are several, and which one is best depends on how sick someone is.

Here's what's advised for various patients:

. Not hospitalised or hospitalised but not needing extra oxygen: No specific drugs recommended, and a warning against using steroids such as dexamethasone.

. Hospitalised and needing extra oxygen but not a breathing machine: The antiviral drug remdesivir, given through an IV, and in some cases also a steroid.

. Hospitalised and on a breathing machine: Remdesivir and a steroid.

Argentina passes 1 million coronavirus cases

At the edge of Argentina in a city known as "The End of the World," many thought they might be spared from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Sitting far from the South American nation's bustling capital, health workers in Ushuaia were initially able to contain a small outbreak among foreigners hoping to catch boats to the Antarctic at the start of the crisis.

But as Argentina passed 1 million virus cases on Monday, it is now smaller cities like Ushuaia that are seeing some of the most notable upticks. Doctors have had to quadruple the number of beds for COVID-19 patients over the last month. At least 60 per cent of those tested recently are testing positive for virus. "We were the example of the country," said Dr Carlos Guglielmi, director of the Ushuaia Regional Hospital.

"Evidently someone arrived with the coronavirus." Across Latin America, Colombia, Mexico and Peru are alos expected to reach the 1 million case milestone in the coming weeks.

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First Published: 21 October, 2020 07:41 IST

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