This may sound like a rather crazy question, but would you? If you were informed that a hospital was looking for volunteers to intentionally contract the disease so they could study the progress and development of the virus, would you do it? That’s what’s happening in England right now. At Imperial College London, doctors are preparing to infect 90 people and monitor their progress, symptoms, and medical data through the course of their COVID infection. It’s thought that the results may help speed the development of a vaccine or treatment regimens. And they already have volunteers lining up. One of them is 22-year-old Danica Marcos. (Associated Press)
Danica Marcos wants to be infected with COVID-19.
While other people are wearing masks and staying home to avoid the disease, the 22-year-old Londoner has volunteered to contract the new coronavirus as part of a controversial study that hopes to speed the development of a vaccine.
Marcos and other young volunteers say they want to take part to help bring an end to the pandemic after seeing the havoc it has wreaked. The grandparents of Marcos’ best friend died early in the crisis, and as a volunteer for a homeless charity she has seen the struggles of those who have lost their jobs.
“So many people (are) struggling right now, and I want this pandemic to be over,” Marcos told The Associated Press.
I suppose the first thing we should do is offer thanks to Danica for being willing to take this sort of risk in the interest of helping everyone else. It’s the sort of selfless act that we don’t hear about every day, regardless of how smart of an idea you may consider it to be.
With that said, this project is being described as “controversial” and that’s probably putting it mildly. I’m not sure if you could even legally attempt it in the United States. The founding principle of medical ethics is primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”). Intentionally infecting a healthy human being with a potentially deadly virus sounds like they’re crossing some sort of line.
One mitigating factor here is that all of the volunteers are relatively young, in their 20s or 30s, and in good health. They’re in one of the lowest-risk groups imaginable. They will also be under the constant supervision and care of some of the best doctors available, further lowering their risk. But that doesn’t mean that the risk is zero. The general consensus is that the mortality rate for healthy patients in that age group is a bit less than one in 250. The medical community has been learning about COVID as they go ever since it broke out. It was initially thought that only the elderly and those with underlying conditions were at serious risk of dying, but by April of this year, we had already recorded some deaths among healthy patients in their 20s.
Further, while many young people shake off the virus with few symptoms, others in this category have survived but been left with serious lung damage. Others have suffered strokes, leaving them with permanent disabilities. So while these volunteers probably have the best chance of anyone in terms of surviving, they are still taking a definite risk of a very serious outcome.
So now that we’ve covered all of that background information, I’ll put the question to our readers yet again. Knowing what the possible ramifications might be, including permanent physical disability or even death, would you volunteer for this? If it really does speed up the development of vaccines and treatment plans, I’d like to think I would if I were a young, healthy man back in my military days. But I’m honestly not sure. That’s a lot to ask of a volunteer.