Ottawa

Meet the people who want to be infected with COVID-19

Hundreds of Canadians have signed up to take part in human challenge trials for a COVID-19 vaccine, which would see them directly exposed to the virus after having been injected with an experimental vaccine. 

Hundreds of Canadians have signed up to take part in human challenge trials

A volunteer participates in the COVID-19 vaccine trial in Oxford, England. (University of Oxford via The Associated Press)

Thomas Sattolo, 27, is young and healthy with a good job, lots of friends and a nice apartment in Ottawa. In short, he has a lot to live for.

Nevertheless, the computer engineer has volunteered to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"The risk, if you're young and healthy like I am, is pretty small," Sattolo said, noting that death rates in healthy 20-29 year olds are low and complications rare. 

He responded to a call from an American organization that's recruiting volunteers to participate in human challenge trials for a vaccine against COVID-19. 1Day Sooner has signed up 38,000 volunteers around the world, including 1,600 Canadians.

'It just seemed like a good thing to do,' said prospective trial participant Thomas Sattolo. (Submitted by Thomas Sattolo)

Canada hasn't yet authorized the use of human challenge trials for the coronavirus, although other countries have. Britain recently announced the launch of a COVID-19 challenge trial to start in January 2021. 

Last month a petition with 543 signatures was tabled in the House of Commons calling on the federal government to begin human challenge trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

WATCH | Thomas Sattolo believes potential benefits to society outweigh the personal risk:

Why this Ottawa resident has volunteered for COVID-19 vaccine trials

CBC News Ottawa

3 months agoVideo
0:49
Thomas Sattolo, 27, says he volunteered to take part in COVID-19 vaccine trials because he believes the potential benefits to society far outweigh the personal risk for him. 0:49

Sattolo doesn't know if he'll ever actually get the call from a pharmaceutical company to take part, but he's happy to be on a waiting list of volunteers. 

"There's, I guess, a small chance of having a long recovery time, which is a tiny bit worrying. But again, there's just this huge benefit to the world of getting a vaccine sooner," he said. 

A nurse shows a COVID-19 vaccine produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at the Sao Lucas Hospital in Brazil. (SILVIO AVILA/AFP via Getty Images)

Intentionally exposed to COVID-19

Normally, in the third phase of a traditional clinical trial, one group of participants receives an experimental vaccine and another receives a placebo. Both groups are followed for several months to see which contracts the virus naturally. 

In a challenge trial, participants are directly exposed to a virus after having been injected with a vaccine in development. 

In the case of a COVID-19 challenge trial, not only would participants be given an unproven vaccine, they would be intentionally exposed to the virus.

Carleton University student Thuqan Hindawi is getting pushback from his own family for his decision to take part in human challenge trials if they becomes possible in Canada.

"My father is extremely against it," Hindawi said. "He's kind of trying to push inside my mind that this is bad. 'Don't go with it. You could risk your life in the future. Something could happen down the line.'"

Hindawi said he's motivated by a need to give back to his community, but would only take part if the Canadian government says it's safe. 

Thuqan Hindawi says his parents are less enthusiastic about the idea of him helping test a vaccine for COVID-19. (Submitted by Thuqan Hindawi)

Potential to save lives

In the case of COVID-19, some medical authorities around the world appear open to challenge trials because they dramatically reduce the time it takes to determine whether or not a vaccine works.

Conor Barnes of Kelowna, B.C., said he wants to do his part during the pandemic, and as a healthy person in his 20s, figured this is the best way.

WATCH | Why one Carleton University student was motivated to sign up for vaccine trials:

Volunteering for COVID-19 vaccine trials a form of community service, student says

CBC News Ottawa

3 months agoVideo
0:55
Carleton University student Thuqan Hindawi, 20, said he was motivated to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine trials by a desire to give back to his community. 0:55

"The math just kind of checked out," he said. "If somebody said, 'Would you risk your life to save one other person's life?' I would say no. But my life to save a hundred people? Well, at that point, how could I say no?"

Barnes believes accelerating vaccine testing could reduce the death toll. 

"If we could end this a day, a week or a month sooner, that's potentially so many thousands of lives saved."

With files from Angie Bonenfant and Sandra Abma

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