MP Marcus Powlowski presented a petition in the House of Commons calling on the Government of Canada to publicly announce a plan for COVID-19 human challenge trials. The petition, which was the work of the challenge trials advocacy group 1Day Sooner, received 543 signatures from across Canada between September 18 and October 18.
A challenge trial involves the administration of a vaccine, that has already passed Phase one and two safety trials, to young and healthy volunteers. They are then deliberately exposed to the disease and quarantined, in order to see if they get sick. A conventional Phase three trial involves vaccinating a large number of people and then allowing them to go about their normal lives while being monitored over time to determine if they become infected with the disease through ordinary practices.
In contrast to a regular Phase 3 trial, a challenge trial is faster and allows for a smaller number of volunteers, because volunteers will be reliably exposed to the disease. Challenge trial supporters also point out that there is no risk of a trial failing due to the epidemic waning in a locality where the trial is being conducted. According to a press release issued by 1Day Sooner, a challenge trial takes less time and less recruitment than traditional trials.
According to the press release, challenge trials generally limit participants to healthy young 18-25 year-olds without underlying conditions, use small, standardized doses of the virus, to limit the amount of illness a volunteer may experience, and house volunteers in containment centres during the trial, to help minimize risk to the volunteers. The World Health Organization has also released standards for how challenge trials can be safely and ethically conducted, the release stated.
The use of a challenge trial for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine has recently been approved for use at the University of Oxford.
“I am very proud of the work One Day Sooner has done advocating for the use of human challenge trials, not just in Canada, but around the world,” Powlowski stated during the presentation of the petition. “They understand how important it is that we obtain a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible for the preservation of human life and the prevention of further economic devastation during this pandemic. Young people from across Canada are ready to step-up to serve their country in our war against COVID-19, and I would hope that Canada’s leaders are willing to heed their call.”
1Day Sooner representative Alexandre Rodgers, author of the petition, also noted:
“We are very grateful for the support shown by MP Powlowski on this important issue. With COVID-19 sweeping across the world and causing the deaths of thousands per day, it is essential we use human challenge trials to speed vaccine testing, especially for poor countries that maybe outbid for the first vaccines. Participating in a human challenge trial poses less risk to young healthy people than living kidney donations, a commonly accepted medical procedure. We hope that Canadian researchers embrace the altruism of over 1700 Canadians who have already volunteered for these trials.”
The wording of the petition is as follows:
Petition to the Government of Canada
We need multiple vaccines to meet global demand, yet we know little about which of the 160 or more vaccines in production actually work;
COVID-19 human challenge trials would quickly narrow the field of promising vaccines and answer essential biological questions about COVID-19, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives;
Human challenge trials have been indispensable to our understanding of other infectious diseases, like malaria, cholera, and influenza, and would similarly offer an unprecedented level of insight into COVID-19;
Over 1,600 Canadians have already volunteered to take part in a COVID-19 human challenge trial;
The risk to young healthy volunteers is on par with other acts of public service, such as living kidney donation; and
Thousands of people are dying every day from COVID-19, and we urgently need to help those who are most vulnerable with accelerated vaccine development.
We, the undersigned, citizens of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to publicly announce a plan for COVID-19 human challenge trials.