Outrage as researchers test potential coronavirus vaccine on themselves
London, August 4, 2020 (AltAfrica)-A bunch of researchers in Boston who appear desperate for an way out of covid-19 pandemic have decided to test a DIY coronavirus vaccine on themselves.
At least 20 people have mixed together the vaccine and sprayed it up their noses as part of what they’re calling the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (Radvac), according to a truly wild MIT Technology Review story.
Among the people testing the DIY coronavirus vaccine is Harvard University geneticist George Church, a man famous for many other things including recoding the human genome, Woolly Mammoth Revival, and Genetic Matchmaking.
Today @techreview reported on an independent effort to gain immunity to Covid-19 organized by 'citizen scientists' @PrestonWEstep , @HoekstraTweets and others.— Antonio Regalado (@antonioregalado) July 29, 2020
About 20 people have taken this nasal vaccine they say.
Here is the story. https://t.co/HQDqsOkUf0
As Regalado notes, this is all happening completely outside of any sort of regulation or oversight.
The Radvac group doesnt have clearance from FDA to test this vaccine, or use it.— Antonio Regalado (@antonioregalado) July 29, 2020
They claim because participants mix ingredients themselves, and self-administer, it's beyond regulatory reach.
I doubt that, but whether they get in trouble may hinge on how they talk about it.
Predictably, many bioethicists find this approach to vaccine development… problematic
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University Langone Medical Center, who saw the white paper, pans Radvac as “off-the-charts looney.” In an email, Caplan says he sees “no leeway” for self-experimentation given the importance of quality control with vaccines. Instead, he thinks there is a high “potential for harm” and “ill-founded enthusiasm.”
Church disagrees, saying the vaccine’s simple formulation means it’s probably safe. “I think the bigger risk is that it is ineffective,” he says.
But there are also other risks that aren’t directly related to the safety or efficacy of the DIY vaccine on the self-declared research subjects.
There’s been a worrying rise in vaccine mistrust over the past few years, both in the US and around the world. Now, in the middle of a global pandemic, people are still distrustful of vaccines, and it’s getting worse, thanks to rampant misinformation.
“Since the outset of the pandemic, vaccine-related falsehoods have ballooned on [Facebook],” reporter Erin Brodwin wrote in a recent article on STAT, “and recent research suggests some of those inaccurate posts are gaining traction among people who weren’t previously opposed to vaccinations.”
Radvac isn’t responsible for the current dire state of vaccine attitudes in the US and around the world. But if you’re going to experiment with high-profile drugs in the hopes of changing the world, you should be acutely aware of the world you’re experimenting in.
One of the reasons these falsehoods are able to take hold? People who are already scared of the pandemic are also pretty freaked out by the speed at which these vaccines — whether from big firms or small experiments — are being produced.
“I just feel like there’s a rush to get a vaccine out, so I’m very hesitant,” Joanne Barnes, a retired fourth grade teacher from Fairbanks, Alaska, told The New York Times earlier this month. Barnes, the Times reported, is someone who is “otherwise always scrupulously up-to-date on getting her shots, including those for shingles, flu and pneumonia.”
The trepidation felt by people like Barnes is why vaccine experts and virologists have repeatedly warned against cutting scientific corners in the pursuit of a vaccine. There’s a worry that if those experiments go badly, it could damage people’s willingness to get even a safe, approved vaccine in the future.
“A rush into potentially risky vaccines and therapies will betray that trust and discourage work to develop better assessments. Despite the genuine need for urgency, the old saying holds: measure twice, cut once,” Shibo Jiang, a professor of virology at Fudan University in Shanghai, wrote in Nature back in March.
As it is, Radvac is measuring and cutting with their own lives, gambling that they can make progress and stay small enough to pass unnoticed by regulatory groups.
“What the FDA really wants to crack down on is anything big, which makes claims, or makes money. And this is none of those,” Church told Tech Review. “As soon as we do any of those things, they would justifiably crack down. Also, things that get attention. But we haven’t had any so far.”