Catch the covid a second time… on purpose. This is what healthy young volunteers are preparing to do in a British study conducted at the University of Oxford. Initially, the study will involve 64 volunteers aged 18 to 30 who have already contracted covid naturally and who have recovered from it. These participants will receive compensation of 5,000 pounds (approximately 5,800 euros) each.
The aim of this study, which should start this April, is to understand how the immune system of a person cured of covid reacts to the virus. This work will also help determine what dose of the virus is needed to re-infect a person.
Researchers will use the original strain of covid-19, the one that developed in Wuhan, but discussions are underway to include one of the new variants.
“Designing better vaccines and treatments”
These studies where patients are voluntarily exposed to a virus “teach us things that others cannot, because they are tightly controlled“, explained the professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford Helen McShane, in charge of the study.
“When we re-infect these participants, we will know exactly how their immune system responded to the first covid infection, when the second infection occurred, and exactly how much virus they received.“, she detailed.
According to this researcher, “information from this work will help design better vaccines and treatments, but also understand whether people are protected after having covid, and for how long“.
The health of these volunteers will of course be carefully monitored by a team of researchers and doctors. Thus, after being exposed to the virus, participants will be quarantined for 17 days and taken to a hospital until they are no longer at risk of infecting other people. If they develop symptoms of covid, they will receive treatment with monoclonal antibodies developed by the American laboratory Regeneron.
In all, the study will last one year. Eight medical appointments are already scheduled to continue monitoring after discharge from hospital.
A daring technique, but one that has proven itself
Last October, Imperial College London had already launched a study in which the virus was voluntarily inoculated into young volunteers. This technique of voluntary exposure to viruses is currently prohibited in France for covid. But it has already played a key role in the development of treatments against several diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera and influenza.