Conor Barnes pre-volunteers to be infected with COVID-19, test vaccines

Volunteering to test COVID

As the race to find a suitable vaccine for COVID-19 continues, more than 1,500 Canadians have pre-volunteered to be deliberately exposed to the virus in a human challenge trial, including Kelowna’s Conor Barnes.

Advocacy group 1Day Sooner are now urging the Canadian government to green-light the trial so it can move ahead for testing of promising vaccines and treatments, as well as the opportunity to learn more about how the virus works. 

"It’s in different points in different countries, like in the UK it seems like they are going to do challenge trials for the Oxford vaccine that’s going on," says Barnes. 

"The idea is that you’d be isolated in a specified safe facility for two months. Then half of the people, or some percentage of the people, would be infected with a placebo or with an actual vaccine, so there’d be a lot of twiddling your thumbs, and a lot of reading."

The 27-year-old says it's also imperative testing is sufficiently carried out regarding the dosage that trial participants will be infected with. 

"Right now, there’s a lot of preparation we need to go on, such as creating a dose that’s safe because if it’s too much it will just overwhelm, and if it’s not enough maybe you won’t get infected, so the idea is right now they should be developing the right amount so that you ingest it in some way."

He heard about the opportunity via a Vox newsletter, and says he did extensive research before putting his name forward. 

Although taking part in the trial does make him a little nervous - particularly the lack of data available around long-term side effects - he believes it is fully worth it for the benefits that it could bring. 

"We are suffering so much from COVID in so many ways right now...if we can think of anything like challenge trials or anything else to speed this up, even by a day or a week, that saves so many lives and so much suffering and money for everybody so I think it’s really imperative that we try experimental things like this that are still scientific but are a little outside the box.

"I’m young, I’m 27, I’m healthy. This is something where I can contribute at honestly not that high of a risk to myself, so that was part of it - thinking there is a risk to myself, but it’s so small compared to the potential benefits."

So far, conversations with family members and friends about his decision to pre-volunteer for the trial have been supportive, but he expects more of those conversations to happen as it gets closer to the time.

As for a timeline, Barnes isn't sure exactly when it may happen, as it depends on when approval is cleared from the government. 

The trial is expected to be a much faster alternative to traditional phase three testing of a vaccine for widespread public use. 

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