Normally in vaccine development, you start out in the lab and you find something that seems to attack the virus in a Petri dish—either kill it or stop it from growing, proliferating and invading cells. Then you move on to try it in animals to see if what looks like it might be useful in a dish has any sort of biological impact.
First, you need to have competent researchers. Not somebody like Elon Musk or Peter Thiel setting up a vaccine study in a hotel room in Saint Kitts, which has happened. We don't want that. We need to have real, experienced vaccine experts doing this. You have to have people who can make very high-quality doses of the vaccine and the virus itself.
In this case, it’s not a really difficult calculation. We’ve already seen over 50,000 deaths in the U.S. If we go at the pace that vaccination normally takes, it's probably four to five years to get everything done. We’re presuming the virus rebounds aren’t going to come back less nasty. The [death toll] indicates there's absolutely a strong ethical case to ask people if they're willing to do this. There is a group that formed to see whether people would be willing to do it. It’s called 1DaySooner and they already have over thousands people after just a week of looking.
I've talked to them loosely. They haven't gotten to the point of developing a consent form, they’re just saying: Would you be willing to do this? This group has been involved with living organ donation, that’s the background of the founder, so they know a little bit about consent and doing risky things to benefit others. But I absolutely think [experts should be involved]. You’d have to really subject this to careful review. I’m not even saying that this is the pool of people you’d use, there may be a whole slew of other people who volunteer.
And I agree, and point out that these challenge studies are not a change in science. We’re not calling for no consent or no review. We’re not calling to abandon the ethics that have governed research. I don’t think we should run around deliberately injecting people. You wouldn't want to do these studies in poor nations where they might be exploited. But it’s wrong to think that we’ve never done the challenge study work that we have.
Exactly. I think people worry, “Well are they going to go do this to prisoners or poor people?” No. We’re not arguing for any suspension of the ethical rules on how to do experiments. We may be arguing that the risk/benefit facing the world justifies offering the opportunity, but no one would be forced coerced, tricked, exploited.
To the highest standard. There’s no way you're going to launch a [human challenge trial] without the absolute best experts agreeing with the design. We can't afford to have muddied results about the only thing that's going to ultimately save us from this plague.
If somebody was to offer their city, offer their grandparents, to be experimented on, I think that they should go first. I mean, it’s silly. You don’t volunteer others. You don’t say, “Hey, the people who own the casinos in my town are willing to kill the workforce.” Come on.
You can’t decide to just let this thing sweep through and knock out the weak. And it’s easier to [suggest] if you’re going to be isolated inside a hotel with pretty good room service or living in a mansion on the outskirts.