To Test a Vaccine for COVID-19, Should Volunteers Risk their Lives?

When he was eighteen, Abie Roehrig decided he wanted to donate a kidney, to save the life of a stranger who needed it. At twenty, he put his name on a list of volunteers for a human-challenge trial to test the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine. A human-challenge trial for a vaccine would be nearly unprecedented: it would entail giving subjects a candidate vaccine against the virus, and then infecting them deliberately to test its efficacy. The side effects would be largely unknown, and the viral infection could be deadly, but, if successful, this experiment could shave months off the process of vaccine development, and save countless lives.

In this New Yorker Radio Hour podcast, two guests give their perspective on coronavirus vaccine trials. These guests are Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist who co-authored a journal article calling for human-challenge trials, and Angela Rasmussen, a virologist who feels that SARS-CoV2 is too unknown for any volunteer to meaningfully give informed consent to its risks.