Coronavirus: What sets Human Challenge Trials apart from vaccine trials which UK is going to conduct for Covid-19

As part of the research, the scientists are also hoping to determine how the virus spreads from one infected individual to the environment infecting several others. (Representative image)

The United Kingdom which has been battling the spurt in Coronavirus cases due to a new variant of Coronavirus has decided to conduct the first Human Challenge Trial (HCT) for Coronavirus. The HCT trials which were announced by the UK government in October last year are expected to set off in about 30 days from now, the Indian Express reported.

What are Human Challenge Trials (HCT)?
In the yet to be conducted HCT, the government is planning to expose about 90 healthy young individuals in the age bracket of (18-30) to small amounts of Coronavirus. As the name of the trials suggest the participants in the HCT are deliberately exposed to the virus or rather challenged to test the efficacy of the presently available vaccines and other treatments of the virus. As part of the preparation of the HCT, the researchers are also on the lookout for healthy young individuals who are willing to partake in the HCT as the young population is understood to be at the least risk from the virus. The HCT also assumes heightened significance due to the fact that the researchers are planning to expose the participants to the latest variant of Coronavirus that has resulted in the sudden spurt of Coronavirus cases in the capital city London and other parts of the country.

Objectives of the HCT trials
Researchers foremost would like to understand the amount of virus which is enough to infect a healthy individual with the disease through the trials. Despite the common understanding in the scientific community about the virus’ impact on the immunity of an individual and its coping mechanism against the virus, the HCT for the first time will clearly establish how the virus impacts the immunity and the process thereafter. As part of the research, the scientists are also hoping to determine how the virus spreads from one infected individual to the environment infecting several others.

The next significant objective of the study will be to determine how long the immunity against Coronavirus lasts in an individual who has already been infected with the virus once. Different studies have estimated the immunity to last for a few months but there is hardly consensus on the matter among the scientific community.

Among other objectives of the study, the scientists will try to ascertain the efficacy of severala Coronavirus vaccines being manufactured in different parts of the world against different variants of Coronavirus which have emerged as the new challenges during the pandemic.

What makes HCT controversial?
While HCT is usually conducted only for diseases that do not affect the participants in a severe manner and in addition to the impending Coronavirus HCT, scientists have successfully used the HCT trials in case of yellow fever, malaria among others.

However, some notorious instances of HTC trials have cast a shadow on the method as the lives of several participants were put in danger in some of the controversial HTC trials in medical science history. One such instance is the HCT trials which were conducted in Guatemala in the middle of the 20th century where participants were exposed to several lethal and life-threatening Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) without getting their explicit consent for the same. Another such instance took place in the period between 1946 and 1948, when the American researchers exposed vulnerable participants like sex workers, prisoners, soldiers and institutionalised patients to STDs without their consent.

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