The first “challenge” vaccine trial in the world is expected to start in London in the New Year, but only young white people will take part.
Up to 90 volunteers at the Royal Free Hospital in the capital will be deliberately exposed to coronavirus in early January in order to see how well the jab, designed by Imperial College London, works.
The challenge method provides results far faster than normal phase three studies in which tens of thousands are vaccinated and continue to live normally in the community. It also allows researchers to monitor participants much more closely.
The study is being backed by £33.6 million of Government money, with the candidate vaccine one of several that has received official backing.
The scientists behind the Imperial vaccine said people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds would not be eligible to take part in the first instance because those groups have been shown to be at higher risk from Covid-19, theoretically increasing the chances of an adverse event if the jab proves not to be protective.
Dr Chris Chieu, the principal investigator, said: “It’s our priority to as quickly be able to include as wide a diversity of participants as possible, but there is some very clear data from around the world that BAME people may be at higher risk of severe disease and severe outcomes.
“Our approach is that we are not going to exclude BAME people absolutely from this trial, but we will start off with people who we believe are going to be at the lowest risk and then gradually increase a greater diversity of individuals as the trial goes on.”
The trial is still waiting for sign-off from an independent ethics committee and regulators. Scientists will aim to find out the lowest safe dose.
Professor Peter Openshaw, from Imperial College London, the co-investigator of the human challenge studies project, said: “Watching this enormously dynamic vaccine landscape that is unfolding before us, I think that it is likely that we will get some answers pretty soon [as to] which vaccines might be effective.
“It may be that there will be several vaccines that are effective, perhaps in different groups or in different ways.”