By Jenny Strasburg Sept. 4, 2021 530 am ET
LONDON—Much of the world spent the past year taking vaccines and wearing masks to evade Covid-19. In the U.K., almost four dozen volunteers have had the virus dripped into their noses by syringe in clinical experiments.
So-called human challenge studies—which intentionally expose healthy people to viruses and other pathogens to study illness, vaccines and treatments—aren’t new. Scientists globally have used them for decades to assess how infections and drugs behave from the moment they enter the body.
But only the U.K. has pushed ahead with Covid-19 challenge trials, deliberately infecting volunteers to study a new, sometimes-deadly disease that still harbors many unknowns.
On March 8, 23-year-old Jacob Hopkins, a U.K. university student, watched researchers enter his quarantine room’s airlocked entrance at London’s Royal Free Hospital. They wheeled a cart carrying a big red box, like a picnic cooler, labeled “biohazard.”
“It’s kind of like that scene from ‘Contagion’—well, any scene from ‘Contagion,’ really—all wearing hazmat suits [with] a little ventilator thing to the side,” he said. He lay on the bed with his head tilted back. A droplet of the coronavirus was inserted into his left nostril, then his right. He stayed there, his nose clipped closed for about another 20 minutes….
Planning started in April 2020, led by researchers from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, officials from the government-appointed U.K. Vaccine Taskforce, and a small London-based biotech called hVivo Services Ltd. that specializes in contract drug testing….
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